Nearly every time it rains on the south side of the U.S.-Mexico border, beach activity in Imperial Beach comes to a stop as contaminated runoff washes onto its shorelines.
Runoff containing raw sewage, disease and other harmful toxins washes into the Tijuana River and is then carried into the U.S. and spit out into the ocean south of the Tijuana River Estuary. North-flowing currents push and spread the contaminants across south county shorelines and force days-long water contact closures.
Week-long rains have already forced the closure of shorelines as far north as Coronado State Beach, but now IB is bracing for something even more hazardous.
The National Weather Service says shorelines in Southern San Diego County could see up to 14-foot wave sets through Friday. The big surf will almost certainly push sewage-contaminated ocean water into IB streets.
Armando Vasquez has been body boarding in Imperial Beach his entire life, but he doesn’t think he’s tougher than contaminated water.
He said he’d never go in the ocean during a contact closure. “Not with these signs posted. Not with a wetsuit. Not with a full beanie and booties. Never,” he said.
The thought of that water making its way into city streets makes him, and Mayor Serge Dedina, uneasy.
“It’s hard to sort of talk about how polluted this water is,” Mayor Dedina said. “It’s raw sewage. It’s the worst stuff you could possibly imagine.”
Dedina has been leading the fight against the contamination for some time.
The cities of Imperial Beach and Chula Vista, as well as the Port of San Diego, the state of California and the Surfrider Foundation, are currently teamed in a lawsuit against the International Boundary and Water Commission for alleged violations of both the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
The plaintiffs claim the federal government isn’t doing enough to stop the contaminated water from reaching U.S. waterways.
While Dedina monitors the situation with the federal government, he’s also hyper-focused at the local level. He says the city’s public works employees, fire department and lifeguards are all prepared for the possible street flooding, and says authorities are prepared to issue citations to anyone disobeying water contact rules.
“Everyone has to step up and do a lot more to fix this problem because right now it’s killing us,” the mayor said. “It seems to me that everyone is fine with IB and Coronado being the open sewer for Tijuana.”
The high surf advisory is set to expire Saturday at 4 p.m.