Tijuana River
A tributary near the U.S.-Mexico border where sewage from Tijuana flows through. / File photo by Adriana Heldiz

This post first appeared in the Nov. 3 Morning Report. Subscribe to the free newsletter here.

Water quality data shows bacteria levels in the ocean along South Bay beaches have been hundreds of times over what’s considered safe for human health this past week. 

The culprit, per usual, is sewage flowing from Mexico into the Tijuana River which empties into the Pacific Ocean just south of San Diego’s southernmost cities. But the people who manage wastewater infrastructure in the U.S.-Mexico border say respite is nigh.

Next month, Tijuana’s wastewater agency is set to restore a ruptured sewage main that snapped in half last August. When that happens, sewage has only two places to go: The Tijuana River or an overworked treatment plant on the U.S. side of the border. 

At first, the U.S. Government-owned treatment plant started working overtime, taking on more sewage than it was permitted to handle in order to spare San Diegans from sewage. That put a lot of stress on the aging plant, which we discovered later was hundreds of millions of dollars behind in repairs. Then came Hurricane Hilary, which flooded the plant and compounded its prolonged problems. 

Around that time, operators of the U.S. plant decided it would stop taking on extra sewage from Mexico’s pump. 

“We can’t sacrifice the plant anymore,” said Morgan Rogers, operations manager at the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant. 

That meant all that extra sewage water that neither the U.S. nor Mexico could treat flowed into the Tijuana River channel, heading straight for Imperial Beach. 

The Tijuana River on Oct. 31, 2023. Typically the river wouldn't be flowing at this time of year, the dry season. / Courtesy of IBWC
The Tijuana River on Oct. 31, 2023. Typically the river wouldn’t be flowing at this time of year, the dry season. / Courtesy of IBWC

So a lot depends on the installation of this new sewer main across Matadero Canyon in Tijuana. Once that’s fixed, workers will build a wall of sand across the Tijuana River to try and stop any excess flow from reaching the U.S. 

“I think that should at least reduce flows in the river and we’ll see fewer (beach) closures,” Rogers said. 

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1 Comment

  1. Elected officials please continue to aggressively pursue funding to remedy the situation

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