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Statement: “There were more beaches closed for longer than Imperial Beach,” Fred Karsten, an Imperial Beach resident, wrote in a letter published by the Union-Tribune Jan. 23.

Determination: False

Analysis: In the letter, Karsten criticized a Jan. 20 editorial cartoon by the Union-Tribune’s Steve Breen, which portrayed a surfer wearing a hazardous materials suit. The caption said, “Surfing Imperial Beach.”

Breen’s cartoon followed reports about a large sewage spill in Tijuana that had gone undiscovered and polluted nearby beaches for weeks, including those just across the border. Karsten said the cartoon unfairly highlighted the spill’s impact on Imperial Beach and perpetuated a stereotype that its waters are less clean than elsewhere.

“Check the San Diego County Water Resources Board to see how last year there were more beaches closed for longer than Imperial Beach,” he wrote.

Karsten’s statement implied that multiple beaches in San Diego County had been closed longer than Imperial Beach last year. So we acted on his suggestion and checked with county officials who monitor beach water quality (the county does monitoring, not the water board).

In fact, Imperial Beach was closed for more days last year than any other beach in the county, except nearby Border Field State Park. Imperial Beach was closed for 78 days, 20 more than the runner-up, Silver Strand. No place was closed longer than Border Field, where waters were off-limits for 239 days.

That’s a recurring problem each year in Imperial Beach, where the pollution problem is rooted in fact. Hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage-laden runoff from Mexico floods through the nearby Tijuana River Valley and inundates the Pacific Ocean with each winter rainfall, sending garbage, bacteria, feces and viruses into the water just south of Imperial Beach, making the ocean there a pollution hotspot.

Since Karsten’s comparison was inaccurate — multiple beaches weren’t closed longer than Imperial Beach — we asked him to clarify the letter. Karsten said he was actually comparing Imperial Beach and the cumulative total of the county’s other beaches. Combined, the other beaches were closed for more days than Imperial Beach.

“I guess I didn’t word that correctly or clearly,” Karsten said. “I didn’t mean to imply another place was closed more than Imperial Beach.”

Regardless of what Karsten meant to say, we’ve called the statement False because it inaccurately described how the frequency of pollution at Imperial Beach compares to other beaches around the county.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

What claim should we Fact Check next? Please contact Keegan Kyle directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/keegankyle.

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