GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP/Getty Images
California state and local officials now believe a massive sewage spill in Tijuana that polluted San Diego beaches may have been intentional. The San Diego Union Tribune reported “sewage spilled into the Tijuana River during a period of more than two weeks,” from a report released last week. The spill was finally contained Thursday.
According to the environmental group Wildcoast, cited in the Los Angeles Times, no other sewage spill between Tijuana and San Diego has come close to this magnitude in over twenty years.
The size of the sewage began from Tijuana, up to Coronado. US authorities from the International Boundary and Water Commission said Mexican authorities have given little to no explanation for the spill, leading authorities to suspect foul play.
The US and Mexican Commissioners at the IBWC on Thursday issued a press release via email, which was obtained by Business Insider, agreeing to a joint investigation into the spill. The press release said “the investigation will determine when the spill occurred, quantify how much sewage spilled, specify the characteristics of the sewage, and identify problems in procedures to notify the Commission and the public.”
Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina attempted to get answers from officials in both Mexico and the US for over a week. In a Los Angeles Times article Dedina said, “this was like a tsunami of sewage spills.” He added, “it looks to me like this was deliberate…It saves [the Mexican agencies] a lot of money in pumping costs, and ultimately, they can get away with it and do it all the time, just on a much smaller scale.”
After news broke of the approved investigation, Dedina told Business Insider, ““I am thankful that both the U.S. and Mexico sections of the International Boundary and Water Commission have agreed to carry out an investigation of the February sewage spill in the Tijuana River. This historic and unprecedented binational investigation is necessary so that we can make sure this type of spill never happens again and start to build in accountability into binational environmental monitoring for the Tijuana River.”
Prominent environmental group San Diego Coastkeepers also called investigation on the matter. Executive Director Matt O’Malley told Business Insider in an email: “It’s outrageous that we have sewage spills of this magnitude occurring under the watch of the International Boundary and Water Commission, and it’s equally outrageous there aren’t proper procedures in place to notify the public when sewage releases occur.”
The US side of the IBWC estimated the spill took place from February 6th through Thursday, February 23rd. The cause could be from repairs being made to sewage pipes at the intersection Mexico’s Alamar and Tijuana rivers, again according to US authorities at the IBWC, reported on by the Los Angeles Times. The sewer-system infrastructure in that area is controlled by Baja California’s State Public Service Commission.
The IBWC oversees international water treaties with Mexico, among other activities. Their spokeswoman Lori Kuczmanski commented “They basically said it was a bypass of raw sewage into the Tijuana River during the rehabilitation of a large sewer pipeline in Tijuana.”
The IBWC did not announce the spill until Friday, because before that the Mexican side of the Commision had been silent, according to US local, regional and federal regulators. Mexican counterparts had given only scant details on the spill as of Tuesday, February 27th.
AP Photo/Gregory Bull
“The circumstances surrounding this spill and the failure to timely release information related to it should be investigated and prevented from ever happening again,” O’Malley told Business Insider.
Dave Gibson, executive officer of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board believes the spill was intentional. “Was the spill intentional? Well, yeah…At least a notification would be a good neighborly thing to do, to let us know what was coming down the river before it got here so we could alert the public,” he said in an LA Times article.
In a San Diego Union Tribune article, Gibson also called for an investigation, saying “I strongly support an investigation, and I am formally calling on (federal officials) to conduct one immediately.”
O’Malley said, “This is not just an environmental failure – it’s a failure to protect the public health of those who live, work, and recreate along the Tijuana River, Imperial Beach, and beyond.”
Gibson explained that standard procedure in the US on such a project would involve efforts to stay pollution. Construction workers would be expected to use booms and divert and pump pollution.
“Officials on both sides of the border must make sewage infrastructure in the region a top priority,” O’Malley said.