Winter is upon us. Cold temperatures. Rain. Mudslides. The first snow of the year. Bad driving. And the holiday tradition of an ungodly amount of trash flushed into local bays and ending up on our beaches. Trash is what you can see. The fecal bacteria counts explode to levels that microbiology labs have trouble measuring accurately. As bad as we have it here, Imperial Beach in San Diego County is a thousand times worse.
For them, rainy season means all of Tijuana’s trash becomes Imperial Beach’s trash and with it comes an overwhelming volume of raw sewage. Not good for the Tijuana River, and even worse for the estuary and surfers at IB. The pictures we received from Ben McCue of WildCoast are epic in the magnitude of environmental desecration.
The “good” news for surfers at IB is that the health department is very aggressive when it comes to beach closures and health warnings. Whenever the Scripps Institute says that the sewage plume from TJ’s San Antonio sewage treatment plant or the TJ River plume (when contaminated with sewage) is headed north to the beach, Scripps lets San Diego County Health know about it and IB gets posted with health warnings.
The bad news is that IB doesn’t get monitored well during rain storms, sewage spills and beach health postings. In other words, there is next to no monitoring when the water quality is at its worst. No wonder Heal the Bay gives IB decent grades on the Beach Report Card. Imagine the grade inflation your kids would have if all of their tough tests were optional. That’s the situation at IB.
As a result, denial has hit IB. Shades of Amity’s mayor in the movie “Jaws”, the mayor of IB, Jim Janney, took issue with the Fox “reality” series “The Secret Millionaire” by disputing the show’s statement that IB is one of the most polluted beaches in America. Believe me, if IB’s Beach Report Card grade was based on reality, it would get one of the lowest “F”s in California, if not the lowest grade. (Avalon and Santa Monica Pier are tough to beat).
Surfing at IB on a closure or posting day is likely hazardous to your health, and unlike in Amity, the threat is not fictional. Pathogens make you sick.
Solving the water quality problems at IB may be as tough as solving California’s budget crisis. But like the budget crisis, we have no choice. The focus on border pollution control has been on raw sewage spills and sediments overwhelming the TJ River Estuary. Unfortunately, despite some notable progress, bold actions on both sides of the border are still needed. The infrastructure challenges are enormous.
The border sewage treatment plant will finally go to full secondary treatment soon. Large-scale stormwater BMPs are critical. This will all take years to implement. In the interim, at least IB and SD County can monitor IB’s beaches year-round on at least a weekly basis. The data will help the public see water quality status and trends and lead to even greater urgency to clean up the TJ River watershed.