CA - Imperial Beach Woes After Estimated 24 Million Gallons Untreated Sewage Flows North via Tijuana River : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

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Title: Sewage Woes Upset Imperial Beach By Leslie Wolf Branscomb UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER April 13, 2000

IMPERIAL BEACH -- The city of Imperial Beach, perennially struggling to upgrade its image and attract more tourism, thought it had beach sewage concerns whipped last year when the international wastewater treatment plant's ocean outfall started operating.

The city's beaches enjoyed a sewage-free summer for the first time in years in 1999.

But the border treatment plant and sewage outfall has not been a cure-all. Sewage from Mexico is still coming across the border at times, through the Tijuana River Valley and onto Imperial Beach's shores, frustrating city leaders and residents alike.

This past weekend an estimated 24 million gallons of untreated sewage flowed north via the Tijuana River, polluting the river valley.

"I find it deplorable," said Lorie Bragg, executive director of the city's Chamber of Commerce, upon learning that sewage collectors in Mexico were turned off for two days. "Every hour the sewage is flowing impacts us."

It's part of an ongoing problem of lack of communication between the two countries, said a representative of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) at a community meeting in Imperial Beach on Tuesday night. The IBWC runs the International Wastewater Treatment Plant in the Tijuana River Valley, just north of the border.

IBWC project manager Dion McMicheaux said the pumping station on the Mexican side apparently was turned off around 11 p.m. Saturday night. The sewage flow was reported to the IBWC on Monday morning. McMicheaux said he called the sewage station in Tijuana to request that the collectors be turned on, and they were, though no explanation was given for why they were turned off.

McMicheaux's counterpart for the IBWC in Mexico declined comment yesterday, and officials for the Tijuana public services department could not be reached.

The Tijuana sewage collectors also were turned off for most of February and March so cleaning and maintenance could be done and also because the water flowing from the rain was more than the Mexican sewage station could handle, said McMicheaux.

On another occasion, the collectors reportedly were turned off to save electricity, he said.

The sewage treatment plants on both sides of the border work as well as can be expected, said McMicheaux. But their effectiveness depends on the sewage being captured in the first place.

"There is an issue here with communication," said McMicheaux. "The river diversion is not being controlled by the United States. The best we can do is ask them to cooperate."

The amount of sewage that ends up off the coast of Imperial Beach did drop off after the border treatment plant and outfall went into operation.

In 1998, the county Department of Environmental Health closed the beach in Imperial Beach from Carnation Avenue south for 156 days, including all of September and October.

After the outfall began operating in January 1999, the number of beach closure days due to sewage dropped to 35 for the year.

This year the health department has closed Imperial Beach's beach for 23 days so far, in February and March. Statistics for April were not available.

Residents have become frustrated that the sewage plant on the U.S. side, which treats as much as 25 million gallons a day, can't treat all the sewage coming across.

And the plant makes no difference if the sewage isn't caught in the first place. During the rainy season, because of the amount of runoff, it becomes virtually impossible to capture all the tainted water.

"We've been under no illusions," said Imperial Beach Councilwoman Patricia McCoy. "It's a dry-weather solution only."

Bragg and others said they wanted the IBWC to give notice whenever possible to the residents downstream when the sewage is flowing. Several people proposed that some kind of alarm or alert system be constructed.

Gary Sirota, a representative of a private sewage treatment proposal called Bajagua, said the problem illustrates why his partnership should be allowed to build a for-profit treatment plant in Mexico.

"If there's a breakdown in the (Mexican) system, there's sewage in the river, and there's nothing we can do about it," said Sirota. He is asking the Imperial Beach City Council to back the Bajagua project, which it is considering.

Sirota said Bajagua is proposing a sewage plant that would be built just south of the border, with private funding, that could handle an additional 50 million gallons a day of sewage. ) Copyright 2000 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.


-- (, April 13, 2000

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