Federal officials say sewage spill stopped at U.S.-Mexico border

A couple walks along Imperial Beach, Calif., on Wednesday as signs warn of contaminated water.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)
San Diego Union-Tribune

While a ruptured pipe in Mexico continues to spill sewage into the Tijuana River, federal officials said that as of Friday morning the effluent was being captured at the border and diverted to a wastewater treatment facility.

Pumps that are part of a diversion system in the Tijuana River have been cleared of debris and restarted, officials said, effectively ending the cross-border flow that reportedly began Monday night from a broken pipe that leaked millions of gallons and shuttered southern San Diego County beaches.

The waters off Imperial Beach remained off limits to swimmers Friday, according to the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health.


While flows are being captured at the border, officials said the damaged collector pipe continues to spill about 4.4 million gallons a day into the river, down from as much as 7 million gallons earlier this week, according to the U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission.

U.S. and Mexican officials are slated to meet Monday to take stock of the spill’s impact and talk about potential funding for repairs and maintenance to the sewage pipe.

“We continue to work with Mexico and stakeholders,” said Lori Kuczmanski, spokeswoman for the IBWC. “We take this issue seriously and hope to have resolution on this pipe rupture in coming days.”

The ruptured pipe, part of the Poniente Collector in southeast Tijuana, was discovered after soil above it collapsed, according to the IBWC.

The collector has undergone millions of dollars in upgrades during the last year, but the section of pipe that burst had yet to be addressed, largely because it was buried under at least one structure and difficult to access, federal officials said.

After the discovery, the local agency that operates the city’s sewer and water delivery systems diverted the flows into the Tijuana River.


This latest spill could be largest since February 2017, when a pipe burst and flooded the river with at least 28 million gallons of raw sewage.

Beyond such major events, polluted water routinely flows through the river into San Diego County, closing shorelines in Imperial Beach roughly a third of the year on average.

Residents are advised to stay out of the ocean 72 hours after it rains because of contamination from urban runoff, but sewage-tainted pollution is far more dangerous to beachgoers.

Smith writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.