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March 03, 2011

Lessons Learned from December's Massive Sewage Spill

U.S.-Mexico Border Coastal Program

Last December right before Christmas, heavy rains undermined the already overburdened sewage pipes in Playas de Tijuana, Mexico. When a sinkhole the size of a house collapsed, it broke a large pipe that began gushing its contents onto the street and into the ocean. 

For three weeks the broken pipe spewed an estimated 30 million gallons of sewage into the ocean. Despite this, warning signs were never posted and the public was not notified. 

For three weeks Rebecca, a Playas resident called a toll free number provided by Tijuana water authorities to notify them in the case of a sewage spill. For three weeks Rebecca received the same response, “They said they would look into it. I have little children in my home and I was worried they would get sick.”

WiLDCOAST learned of the spill after Executive Director Serge Dedina went to the beach to go surfing early one morning and smelled the raw stench of sewage all over the beachfront. He immediately notified Paloma Aguirre, our lead on U.S.-Mexico border issues. Paloma went to Playas to investigate and learned of the spill. She immediately notified authorities in San Diego and Tijuana, but it quickly became clear that there was little action to halt the spill and notify the public and agencies north of the border.

Alarmed at the threat to public health posed by the spill, WiLDCOAST launched a campaign to pressure authorities in Tijuana and San Diego to fix the pipe.

Within 24 hours of WiLDCOAST’s alert, and after more than ten television, radio and newspaper outlets reported on the incident, Tijuana’s water agency began repairs on the pipe and issued a public advisory. But the damage had been done. During the three-week period of the sewage spill, thousands of people flocked to the beach on both sides of the borer and had unknowingly come in contact with contaminated ocean-water.

“This is not an issue of whether accidents will happen or not, we know they will” said Paloma. “It is about how we choose to respond to them and how we address the resulting environmental threats. We must improve trans-border collaboration and prioritize coastal protection”.

So please donate today to help to support WiLDCOAST’s efforts to safeguard our coastline. After all, thanks to your help WiLDCOAST continues to be our coast’s best defense.