Beneath a bridge on Dairy Mart Road in the Tijuana River Valley, a lonely soccer ball races by, tumbling end over end with the flow of the river. It’s made a quick journey across the border today and within moments, will disappear behind a group of trees and high weeds.

It’s lonely now, but it won’t be for long. Coming right behind it is a two-liter Coca-Cola bottle — then a tire, a jar of whey protein supplement, a piece of Styrofoam and a mattress.

They’re all headed north. On this rainy day, when downpours fall across Tijuana, too, the water awakens dormant litter that’s been tossed aside in Mexico.

Eventually, when the water recedes and the flooding signs are put back on the side of the road, the magnitude of the litter will be clear. In January, reporter Rob Davis and I visited the Tijuana River Valley to see the impact that hard downpours have on the area.

Mounds of trash consumed a once clean valley. At the time, Davis put it this way:

A mile north of the border fence, Mexico’s garbage stands five feet high in places, a pointillistic rainbow made of plastics. Royal blue oil containers. Green soda two-liters. Lavender fabric softener bottles.

There, in the Tijuana River basin, a wide channel that serves as the main drainage basin for Tijuana’s storm water runoff, a stack of garbage stretches almost a quarter-mile long. The plastic bottles have washed across the border and gotten stuck in plain sight.

Monday, nearly a year after photographing the aftermath, I waded through the mud and pouring rain to see firsthand how the trash arrived.

At first glance, the garbage flow seemed unremarkable. An old doll here, a paper plate there. But then, clusters of plastic bottles came past. Within a 10-minute span, at least 20 tires floated through the cross-border canyon called Smuggler’s Gulch.

The slow trickle of litter adds up. But the scale of the problem won’t be as clear until the water dries up. Then the job can begin — yet again — to clean up the valley that can’t escape the rain.


Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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