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March 22, 2013

TJ Sewage Spill Closes Border Beaches-Story by Sandra Dibble, UT-San Diego

Story by Sandra Dibble-Published in the UT on March19, 2013
Photo by H. Ayuntamiento Tijuana
By Sandra Dibble11:17 P.M.MARCH 19, 2013











The first notice came Monday, after surfers in Imperial Beach noted a stench and a yellowish plume in the water near the mouth of the Tijuana River.

San Diego County environmental health officials acted that same day to close the beach, after receiving notice from the Imperial Beach-based group WiLDCOAST. But WiLDCOAST claims its calls to government offices south of the border went unheeded: it was a holiday in Mexico, and no one was answering the phones.

“The big picture is that there has to be better communications between both nations,” said Paloma Aguirre, WiLDCOAST’s coastal conservation program manager. “These spills can and should be prevented, but in case of an accident, the response should be immediate,” Aguirre said.

The extent and exact source of the contamination remained unclear Tuesday--authorities on both sides of the border said they were awaiting for results of water tests. But concern was strong enough to prompt Tijuana municipal authorities to close the beach near the border at Playas de Tijuana, while beaches in Imperial Beach remained closed for a second day.

A report Tuesday morning from Tijuana City Hall stated that sewage was flowing into the ocean from two points at Playas de Tijuana, with the total flow at four liters per second. Julian Torres, deputy director of the city's environmental health department, said he learned of the spill early Tuesday from a television news report, and moved quickly to order a precautionary beach closing.

The Baja California utility agency that maintains the city’s sewage system, CESPT, reported Tuesday evening in a news release that crews would be working for several hours to replace a 26-foot stretch of a 42-inch pipe, which had become blocked. Juan Manuel Tamayo Arellano, the CESPT's deputy director, said that the pipe is part of an aging sewage collector that is slated to be replaced this year.

North of the border, the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission on Tuesday reported a second source of potential contamination: polluted flow from the Tijuana River, which runs through Tijuana but empties into the Pacific Ocean in Imperial Beach.

The flow “appeared more contaminated than usual,” said Steve Smullen, operations manager for the San Diego field office of the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission.

Smullen said that IBWC made a request to its Mexican counterpart, known as CILA, to turn on a pump station that diverts the flow on the river into Tijuana's sewage collection system before it crosses to the United States.

The pump had been turned off since March 8. Roberto Espinoza, who heads CILA's Tijuana office, said that the pump is normally turned off in rainy weather because the large amount of sand and debris plug the system. The pump had remained turned off, Espinoza said, because the basin had become saturated, and the flow down the Tijuana River channel had remained high

Espinoza said that the flow was low enough Tuesday afternoon to allow the pump to be turned back on at 3:30 p.m.

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