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Imperial Beach Demands Solution to Transboundary Sewage Spills from Mexico

By Alexandra Mendoza

South County authorities are growing increasingly impatient with the lack of resolution to the raw sewage spills from Mexico impacting the San Diego coastline.

This past Thursday, Oct. 26, local environmentalists received reports of bad odors along the coastline between Imperial Beach and Tijuana. A bacteriological analysis performed by the Proyecto Fronterizo de Educación Ambiental (Border Environmental Education Project, or PFEA, for its initials in Spanish) detected “high levels of fecal contamination” present in the water.

What most upsets the City of Imperial Beach is that, once again, Mexican agencies failed to send any notification whatsoever.

“It smelled like sewer,” said Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina, adding that he had become ill after surfing at the contaminated beach. “It is unbelievable that this is happening again.”

According to International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) estimates, at least 28 million gallons of untreated sewage were spilled in Tijuana and reached Imperial Beach in an earlier incident in February of this year. Although the issue back then was due to damages suffered during a strong storm event, the complaint was the lack of communication; had they been notified, they could have closed beaches according to protocol, said the City of Imperial Beach.

The recurrence of this problem and the lack of resolution have now led to legal action. A few weeks ago, the City announced it intended to sue IBWC, the international agency made up of a Mexico and a U.S. section in charge of water issues between the two countries.

Imperial Beach feels that said agency is responsible for ensuring that pollution generated in Mexico does not reach the American coastline.

In addition to the legal recourse, now joined by other cities such as Chula Vista and San Diego, they are asking the State Department to investigate the purported October 26 and 27 spill. “We are asking for this investigation to get to the truth now,” stated Mayor Dedina.

Tijuana has said they have no reports of any sewage spills. The head of Tijuana’s water utility (CESPT, for its initials in Spanish) said in an interview on Tijuana’s Sintesis TV that there are no records indicating a spill took place on the dates specified by Imperial Beach.

IBWC said they had asked their Mexico counterpart (CILA) for information, but were also told there were no spills reported.

Despite these statements, environmentalists insist that the foul smell and water samples taken in Mexico say otherwise. “We are once again in a situation where we are seeing a lot of illnesses and impacts throughout the coast. This is unacceptable,” expressed Paloma Aguirre, director of the Coastal and Marine Program at WildCoast. “Enough! We are tired of suffering these impacts due to the negligence of Mexican authorities,” she added.

The Mayor of Imperial Beach has gotten to the point of calling for changes within Tijuana’s water utility, specifically the firing of its director, Miguel Lemus, since he feels the director’s inaction regarding these raw sewage issues is affecting bilateral relations.

“CESPT’s actions, the lies, and the bad information are affecting it,” Dedina stated.

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