San Diego

High Surf Pushes Contaminated Ocean Water Onto Imperial Beach Streets

Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina on Friday posted a video on social media showing murky, sewage-contaminated water flooding city streets as surf surged across the southern California coast. 

"We have higher tides so we have some coastal flooding going on today, the worst that I’ve ever seen in my 40 years of living in Imperial Beach," Dedina said in the video. 

Cortez, Beach, Descanso, Encanto and Palm avenues, as well as Admiralty Way had seen flooding before 9:30 a.m. Friday, according to Dedina. 

City crews, residents and businesses had prepared for the flooding on Thursday. 

Nearly every time it rains on the south side of the U.S.-Mexico border, beach activity in Imperial Beach comes to a stop as sewage-contaminated runoff washes onto its shorelines.

Week-long rains have already forced the Department of Environmental Health to close shorelines as far north as Coronado State Beach. The closure would last until DEH samples say the water is safe again. 

"It's hard to sort of talk about how polluted this water is," Mayor Dedina said. "It's raw sewage. It's the worst stuff you could possibly imagine."

Runoff containing raw sewage, disease and other harmful toxins washes into the Tijuana River and is then carried into the U.S. and spit out into the ocean south of the Tijuana River Estuary. North-flowing currents push and spread the contaminants across south county shorelines and force days-long water contact closures.

The National Weather Service said shorelines in Southern San Diego County could see up to 14-foot wave sets through Friday. The high surf advisory is set to expire Saturday at 4 a.m.

Armando Vasquez has been bodyboarding in Imperial Beach his entire life, but he doesn’t think he’s tougher than contaminated water.

He said he’d never go in the ocean during a contact closure. “Not with these signs posted. Not with a wetsuit. Not with a full beanie and booties. Never,” he said.

Dedina has been leading the fight against the contamination for some time.

The cities of Imperial Beach and Chula Vista, as well as the Port of San Diego, the state of California and the Surfrider Foundation, are currently teamed in a lawsuit against the International Boundary and Water Commission for alleged violations of both the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

The plaintiffs claim the federal government isn’t doing enough to stop the contaminated water from reaching U.S. waterways.

While Dedina monitors the situation with the federal government, he’s also hyper-focused at the local level. He says the city’s public works employees, fire department and lifeguards are all prepared for the possible street flooding, and says authorities are prepared to issue citations to anyone disobeying water contact rules.

“Everyone has to step up and do a lot more to fix this problem because right now it's killing us,” the mayor said. “It seems to me that everyone is fine with IB and Coronado being the open sewer for Tijuana.”

Sandbags can be picked up and filled at the fire station at 865 Imperial Beach Blvd.

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