Skip to content (press enter)


Summary of Events from May 7th Meeting and Open Forum


Dan Murphy started the meeting off by emphasizing that Surfrider will be part of a coalition of environmental agencies as well as community members that will focus on finding solutions for storm run off in an effort to decrease beach closures in Imperial Beach. Tours of Border Field State Park and the Tijuana Estuary will help volunteers to understand the issue and motivate them to act and bring more attention to the issue.

Belinda Smith referred to the Trestles campaign as an example of how a coalition force can work together and result in success. Beginning now the goal is to make more of a presence in the South Bay.

Scott Harrison addressed what some IB community members may have perceived as Surfrider’s lack of support for the border sewage problem. Although South Bay residents are not a large majority of the volunteer force, Scott remarked that anyone can become a member of the executive committee as a way to represent their community. Surfrider is excited to be involved and for the potential it provides for the issue and the Imperial Beach area.


Jeff Knox (IB resident, Tijuana River Citizen’s Council (TRCC) member). Jeff spoke with great passion about the history of surfing in Imperial Beach and its beginning in the 1930s with Dempsey Holder. In the 1960s South Coast and Wind and Sea Surfboards had their start in IB. Surfers would come all the way from Australia already familiar with IB and could and stay at the White House where Dempsey was caretaker. Jeff talked about the Sloughs, a deep water break and intimidating wave that’s half a mile from shore. The surfing trilogy Tijuana Straights is based on the Sloughs. Imperial Beach is an isolated community and the residents prefer it that way. However, Jeff invited everyone to come down and meet the people and experience the great surf. He ended with a special invite for anyone that is strong swimmer to surf the Sloughs in the wintertime. Just not after the first rain.

Jay Novak (IB resident, TRCC member, owner Novak Surfboard Designs)
Jay first noticed a problem in the ocean off Imperial Beach in the 1970s. He watched as the population in Tijuana increase drastically in a very short time period. And now he watches as rain events wash 250 million gallons of untreated water into the ocean. Last year the beach was closed 76 days and on average closures are 70 days per year. Jay, as a local business owner, appreciates the impact this has on local businesses and livelihoods as well as people’s health. For Jay, solutions lay in the two Japanese funded treatment plants which will address the San Antonio outfall. The outfall currently sends treated and untreated water into the ocean and is responsible for the odor of chlorine that accompanies a south swell. Also, progress is being made by the Tijuana River Recovery Team (TRRT) that focuses on trash and sediment that comes over the border. Plastics recycling in Mexico and trash collection close to the border will certainly need to be part of the solution. Jay stressed that government agencies need to work together and develop a timeline of goals and stick to them. Jay sees the ocean as a great asset to Imperial Beach and that while border sewage is a big problem with no easy solution; people working together creatively can help the issue.

Sarah Emerson (Tijuana River Estuary Community Outreach Coordinator)
Sarah encouraged people to get involved by participating in habitat restoration/clean up (next invasive plant removal is 5/9), the more healthy the habitat is the better the water will be. To learn more people can attend the speaker series at the estuary the 3rd saturday of each month (Greg Abbot on 5/16 will talk about endangered vegetation). Check out their website for more information and events calendar.

Rich Hildalgo (Imperial Beach Lifeguard)
Rich’s goal is to help people understand the water quality issue from the lifeguard perspective. The Imperial Beach lifeguards are proactive with regard to sewage: they take water samples and work closely with the Department of Environmental Health (DEH), a relationship that the lifeguards feel is good. Rich and his colleagues are the only lifeguards to take water samples. They receive on going training from the DEH and follow the specific procedures necessary for collecting the samples (before 11am, using sterilized bottles, etc.). Presently tests are conducted every 2-3 months, it’s up to the DEH, when the lifeguards get the call they take the samples. (Apparently funding is tight at the moment for testing) The current turn around time for getting test results is 24 hours from the time the samples are submitted to the DEH. According to Rich the only other testing being done is by the City of San Diego but this has not been done recently. However, last year San Diego Coastal Ocean Observing System (SDCOOS) (Rich wasn’t certain if it was SDCOOS, may have been different organization) received a grant through University of Southern California (USC) for smelly event sampling. The samples tested at USC underwent very detailed tests but no reports were ever received regarding the results as grant funding was stopped. Rich urged the public to report anything they notice to the lifeguards since they can’t be everywhere all the time and they will contact the DEH, take the proper steps and make an informed decision. DEH makes the determination as to whether or not to close the beach and the county issues the order to the lifeguards. The DEH decides where and which sign to post. An advisory posting (white sign) occurs when there is a renegade flow/unknown source. A rain event results in full closure (yellow sign). A yellow sign does not necessarily mean that a test has been done. Rich explained that after a significant rain event the smell alone is enough for the lifeguards to call the DEH but the signs go up before tests are taken in order to protect the public.

Roger Benham (lifelong IB resident, engineer)
Roger sees solutions to the border sewage problem as technical in nature and something that can be done on the US side of the border. His fear is that sending volunteers out to pick up trash is a futile effort and the photos of the massive amounts pollution will be the same 20 years from now. Roger has researched long term solutions to address the problems of sewage, trash and erosion products flowing into San Diego from Tijuana. The three components include a bypass channel, trash reclamation facility and technology center and advanced separation unit. Contact Roger at for further information.

Closing Questions & Comments

Community members in attendance praised the Rich and his fellow lifeguards for the job they do collecting samples and protecting the public.

Dick Tynan mentioned that the San Diego County Water Authority is meeting on new wetlands to be located just west of Smuggler’s Gulch, $28 million to fund the Tijuana River Valley and an additional $250,000 for trash boom. Dick proposed an idea to Congressman Filner regarding a $0.25 toll at the border crossing to raise money for the pollution problem. Surfrider may be able to draft a letter regarding this idea so that others can support it. Also announced was that the Tijuana River Valley Equestrian Association (TRVEA) is organizing a trash pick up on June 6th from 9am to noon. Meet at Hollister Street.

Jim King (city council member, resident of IB) is glad Surfrider has renewed interest in the South Bay and brings credibility and energy to the border sewage issue.

One community member asked about a symposium where all the agencies could gather to share information. Sarah Emerson responded that the Tijuana Estuary has regular public meetings with a symposium like format that would provide an opportunity for the coalition members to communicate.

Post Meeting Discussions

Belinda and Keri discussed the possibility of using the QwikLite Biosensor System for the IB lifeguards to do their own testing. More research into the monitoring kit and input from Rich Hildalgo needed.

Belinda spoke with Kyle Knox and he agreed to attach his name to the campaign. Possibly do a video w/Marty.