According to reports from the Los Angeles Times, the equivalent of 6 million gallons a day of raw sewage has been spewing into the Tijuana River, which empties into the ocean just north of the U.S./Mexico border, since Monday.
The U.S. section of the International Boundary Water Commission (IBWC) announced on Tuesday that according to counterparts in Mexico, the sewage spill is the result of a ruptured collector pipe that ruptured two days ago.
Authorities have closed many south San Diego County beaches as a result of the spill.
Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Medina said he doesn’t believe Mexican officials are being entirely transparent and has called for a formal investigation.
“We don’t believe that this spill happened yesterday as the Mexican government is claiming,” he told NBC4 News. “We think it happened right after the rain, so whether or not there’s a cover-up of the spill and whether or not we’ve had up to 30 million gallons spilled since the rain is something we’re concerned about.”
Southern California and specifically parts of San Diego were hammered last week by a two-day storm that brought heavy rain showers and lightning to the region.
“There’s no way that a pipe broke down three days after the flood. It seems suspicious,” Mayor Dedina told the LA Times.
This isn’t the first raw sewage spill of this size to occur in the Tijuana River – a fact that underscores the often fractious relationship between US and Mexican officials over this issue.
Back in February 2017, a similar spill occurred leading the Surfrider Foundation, the cities of Imperial Beach and Chula Vista, and the San Diego Unified Port District to announce their intent to sue the US IBWC over violation of the Clean Water Act.
Referring to the February 2017 spill, Surfrider explained in May, “This event affected hundreds of Imperial Beach and Coronado residents who have been forced to live with contamination affecting their homes, neighborhoods, favorite beaches and open spaces. More than 450 days have passed since the spill and yet there have been no long-term solutions proposed to remedy the problem on the U.S. side of the border.”
On Tuesday, the lawsuit overcame its first major hurdle after a San Diego judge refused to dismiss the case.
“We celebrated a victory yesterday when the Honorable Judge Miller issued a decision denying the Federal government’s motion to dismiss our Clean Water Act lawsuit,” Gabriela Torres, Policy Coordinator at the Surfrider Foundation’s San Diego chapter told The Inertia. “News of this victory came within minutes of hearing of this recent sewage spill that has not yet been contained. Sadly, this recent event highlights the importance of our pending litigation. We are working on an infrastructure solution and source projects so that spills like this cease to impact our water quality.”
The concern among environmental advocates and officials on the US side of the border is aging or non-existent infrastructure on the Mexican side, which leads to the routine polluting of south San Diego beaches. According to the LA Times and county records, Imperial Beach coastline remains closed for about one-third of the year.
“This is exactly why we filed our lawsuit,” Dedina told the LA Times. “We should have infrastructure that can capture the sewage and send it back into the system.”
The LA Times also reports the pipe that ruptured in the most recent spill “underwent millions of dollars in upgrades over the last year but is not fully rehabilitated.”