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Imperial Beach shoreline closed again after being blasted for weeks by Tijuana sewage

A sign on a beach reads "Danger - Sewage - Contaminated Water."
Contaminated water signs posted along the southern part of Imperial Beach.
(Alejandro Tamayo / San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diegans will undoubtedly head to the ocean this weekend as temperatures warm — but not in Imperial Beach.

Sewage spilling over from Tijuana forced officials on Friday to completely close the city’s shoreline yet again.

The move comes less than a week after Baja officials said repairs were completed to a broken water pump in the Tijuana River, which had allowed tens of millions of gallons of sewage-tainted water to escape capture starting in late March.

Reports of the putrid smell have been flooding in from residents across the South Bay for weeks. Even Coronado beaches were closed over Easter weekend.

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“The stench was crazy, just terrible,” said Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina. “We’re just going into our round robin of endless openings and closures because of the residual sewage in the river.”

Lifeguards have continued to patrol the water during the nasty conditions, including on Thursday when a man drowned after jumping off the Imperial Beach Pier.

“A lifeguard got really sick from making rescues,” Dedina said. “One had to do CPR on someone who was in polluted waters.”

Baja officials have said they’re making headway on long-overdue fixes to its aging wastewater treatment system including efforts to replace a crumbling treatment plant called San Antonio de los Buenos.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in February that it planned to spend roughly $300 million to address the pollution. The agency is now launching an environmental review process for a suite of projects, most notably the construction of a water-diversion system in the Tijuana River north of the border to capture and treat polluted flows. San Diego officials have been pushing for a new system since 2019.

The EPA is also looking to expand concrete basins in the river valley that capture urban runoff in canyons along the border. The facilities were upgraded in 2010, but sewage and chemical-tainted flows continue to overwhelm their capacity.

Border Patrol agents routinely complain about having to work in toxic sewer sludge, reporting skin rashes, chemical burns and respiratory problems.

The south end of Imperial Beach along the Tijuana Sloughs has yet to open for swimming this year and was closed last year for 295 days, according to city officials. The city’s main beachfront along Seacoast Drive has so far been closed for roughly half of 2021.


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