Sewage Spill Fouls Imperial Beach Waters with no public Notification

It took local Surfers and activists from Surfrider and Wildcoast to get Federal and County officials to finally notify the public about a sewage spill from the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant(SBIWTP).

On April 4, a software malfunction at the South Bay International Waste Water Treatment Plant along the border began the discharge of a significant volume of untreated sewage into the Tijuana River Valley.

While the company contracted by the International Boundary Water Commission (IBWC) to monitor the release of treated sewage failed to prevent the spill, another key problem was the poor communication in notifying the public about the hazard, which could have had significant public health effects throughout the South Bay.

On April 26th, the pumps were finally repaired and the USIBWC has updated its spill notification procedures in an effort to provide more timely notice to interested stakeholders. Moreover, plant operators have taken steps, such as upgrading warning systems, to prevent the problem from recurring. The Department of Health is now working closely with Surfrider and Wildcoast to provide more timely notifications and warnings to the public when and if future spills occur.

Surfrider is not a newsgathering organization, but we place a high value on the accuracy of the facts we use to argue in favor of protecting water quality. The breakdown in communication in this incident highlights several points critical to Surfrider’s No Border Sewage (No B.S.) campaign:

• Ongoing sewage problems affecting the border are unacceptable.

• Timely notification is critical to public health when spills occur.

• Citizen stakeholders must be a part of the initial notification process.

The USIBWC will be holding a Public Meeting to address these recent sewage-control problems on the Tijuana River – Thursday, May 10, 6pm at Tijuana Estuary Meeting Room, 301 Caspian Way, Imperial Beach. The forum is designed to address regional water and wastewater issues. The agenda includes Dave Fogerson of the San Diego County Water Authority, who will give an overview of binational efforts to study a desalination plant in Rosarito, Mexico. This study is being conducted by U.S. and Mexican agencies as part of larger binational efforts to review a number of Colorado River water supply augmentation projects, operations and management practices. In addition, local boundary commission operations manager Steve Smullen will discuss a pump station failure at the South Bay IWTP that caused a sewage spill to the Tijuana River.

Former Jamul resident Sherman Goodrich checks in from Phoenix with this cartoon commentary on the recent discharge of untreated sewage from the South Bay International Waste Water Treatment Plant that spilled into the Tijuana River Valley. — Sherman Goodrich By U-T San Diego