(If you read this and start thinking, “This only affects San Diego,” think again. This involves your federal tax dollars.)
If you haven’t been to San Diego, chances are you’re still familiar with this local icon, the Hotel Del Coronado:
Located right on the beach, Hotel Del opened in 1888 and has been the setting for many movies including the wildly popular 1959 Some Like It Hot, starring (below, left to right) Tony Curtis, Jack Lemon and Marilyn Monroe:
Hotel Del is a popular place for visitors both for the hotel and the beautiful beach. You are cordially invited to visit Hotel Del.
But alas, lately – not it’s beach:
In fact, beaches from Coronado south to the Mexican border were closed due to sewage contamination– see the red dots:
And unfortunately, this is not a one-time-only event.
I could go back further, but you get the idea.
Raw sewage from Tijuana moves north through the Tijuana River Valley across the U.S./Mexico border and empties into the Pacific Ocean. Currents carry the sewage north, closing beaches along the way:
This is a big problem, and not just for the San Diego area:
This is a local problem: San Diego is a top U.S. travel destination, and visitors spend more than $11 billion here annually. Our beaches are big part of the attraction…
…but if visitors can’t enjoy the ocean, they’ll spend their money elsewhere. This impacts every local business, from restaurants and hotels to gas stations and surfboard rentals – both the owners and the employees.
This is a health problem: For people and the environment: In a 2020 60 Minutes story, an interviewee cited for Leslie Stahl some of the contaminants in Tijuana sewage:
“…fecal coliforms, drug-resistant bacteria, benzene, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium medical waste, and DDT, which has been banned for years in the United States.”
This toxic cocktail is combined with assorted trash including plastic and tires, dead animals and sometimes a dead human:
All this is pouring into the Pacific Ocean. But it’s not just swimmers and surfers and birds and other wildlife who can be harmed.
Let’s say you live in Ohio, and you’re treating yourself to a dinner at a nice restaurant. You order the grilled tuna, flown in fresh this morning from the West Coast:
This is also a national problem: Millions of your federal tax dollars have been spent trying to fix the Tijuana sewage problem, much of it coming from the Environmental Protection Agency.
It’s not fixed, and this is still happening:
What, exactly is the cause of this problem?
What I learned from my research is that there’s no “exactly,” because it’s a combination of factors:
Too many people in Tijuana overloading an inadequate sewage system.
Promises made, like this one from 2018:
And promises broken.
As for the money spent – there’s been a lot of that, but obviously to little effect.
Like this state funding in 2017:
And upcoming federal tax dollars:
Here are just a few more examples of federal tax dollars spent on the Tijuana sewage problem:
1995: $157 million from IBWC (International Boundary and Water Commission)
1997: $239 million from EPA
1998: $42 million from EPA
2011: $93 million from EPA
The money keeps flowing.
And so does the sewage and the contamination.
In mid-June, just as the tourist season had gotten underway, that contamination closed beaches from Coronado, location of Hotel Del, south to the Silver Strand and down to Imperial Beach:
And it looks like the problem is worse than anyone realized, according to this “new testing”:
“Beach closures that were once thought of as largely a wintertime occurrence now appear poised to become a year-round phenomena in San Diego’s South Bay.”
“It’s because the ocean is more polluted than previously thought. A spate of recently shuttered shorelines followed a May 5 rollout of a new DNA-based water-quality testing system nearly a decade in the making.”
So, better testing = more beach closures.
The article continues:
“For years, environmental regulators thought sewage pouring over the border from Mexico was largely the result of heavy winter rains that flushed polluted runoff and wastewater through the Tijuana River channel into the estuary in Imperial Beach.”
“However, recent studies out of UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Stanford University have identified a defunct wastewater facility in Tijuana as a major source of the pollution. San Antonio de los Buenos sewage treatment plant at Punta Bandera is estimated to be dumping as much as 35 million gallons of raw sewage a day into the Pacific Ocean.”
Here’s another map, this one indicating the San Antonio de los Buenos sewage treatment plant:
Let’s stop and think about this:
“As much as 35 million gallons of raw sewage a day into the Pacific Ocean.”
How much raw sewage is that, per day?
Picture an Olympic-size swimming pool:
The pool is 164 feet long, 82 feet wide, and 6 feet deep.
It holds about 660,000 gallons.
Now think about 53 Olympic-size pools full of shit and trash and the occasional dead body being poured into the Pacific Ocean…
Sickening, isn’t it?
And it makes people sick – again, from the June 14, 2022 Union-Tribune:
“The [beach] closures are necessary to protect beachgoers from dangerously high levels of bacteria and viruses, according to county public health officials. Swimmers who ignore the restrictions could be at risk of diarrhea, fever, respiratory disease, meningitis and even paralysis.”
Going back to the map, above –
“When ocean currents move northward, referred to as a ‘south swell,’ they can carry plumes of feces and other pollution as far north as Coronado. Such conditions are prevalent in the spring and summer, according to health officials.”
So why doesn’t Mexico get their shit – literally – together and fix the problem?
Because they don’t have to.
Sewage from Tijuana is flowing out of the city so their problem is solved. If their system causes problems in another country – the U.S. – that’s not Mexico’s problem.
And what’s the U.S. going to do?
Declare war on Mexico?
So: Will this $630 million from the EPA fix the problem?
If so, it won’t be anytime soon:
I’d say “moves forward” is way overstating the progress, when all the EPA is doing at this point is asking for public comments.
As though the public hasn’t been commenting about Tijuana sewage problems since the 1930s, according to this article:
“Water pollution has been an ongoing concern on this side of the border since at least 1934 [almost 90 years ago], when the International Boundary Commission was instructed by the U.S. and Mexico governments to cooperate in sewage mitigation.”
The public comment period is “now open and will end on August 1, 2022” according to the EPA website:
And then, says the June 17 KPBS article:
“Once public input has been incorporated, officials will select an option with an eye toward starting the design process in the fall.”
Here are the three options the EPA is considering, with my public comments:
In addition, I’ll offer some great comments from the June 19 San Diego Union-Tribune:
I love the word claptrap: “absurd or nonsensical talk or ideas.”
“Bummer Summer” indeed.
Now, that’s an idea I can get behind.
Update: The beaches from Coronado south to Imperial Beach finally reopened on June 21:
That’s the good news.
The bad news?
Officials “hope” this EPA $630 million plan “can be completed by 2030.”
Until then, this will keep happening:
And so will this:
Update: Well, the beaches were reopened.
Until this, from the June 30 San Diego Union-Tribune: