U.S. Rep. Scott Peters (D - 52nd District) got a first-hand look at the extensive damage from the Tijuana River sewage spill, which has contaminated water in the San Diego area.
Last month, millions of gallons of raw sewage spilled in Tijuana and leaked into the Imperial Beach region, making the river and parts of the coast unsafe.
On Monday, Congressman Peters told reporters the EPA's estimate of raw sewage had risen from 143 million gallons to more than 200 million gallons in a new estimate.
"It's a pretty staggering number," he said, pointing behind him to a piece of land in Imperial Beach that has been "functioning like a sewer for the last little while."
As he toured the region, he reaffirmed the need for a full investigation into the crisis.
"We got a nice response, I'm satisfied with this response that they are going to conduct this investigation and we're going to give them time to do it," Peters said. "We expect honest answers and will let you know what we want in terms of follow up."
The International Boundaries Water Commission has agreed to carry out a bi-national investigation into the more than 143 million gallons of raw sewage spilled in Tijuana.
Peters said it was important to remember that things that happened across the border affected the San Diego region, and urged officials to find a bi-national solution.
"I think there's a lot of questions about exactly what happened, how long it went on how bad it is, I'm hoping the investigation that’s going to take place will give us those answers," Peters said. "More importantly, there's nothing we can do now about this water flowing into the ocean, but we got to make sure this stuff doesn’t happen again."
The spill has been described as the worst sewage spill in more than a decade by Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina.
Dedina says the city filed an official complaint on Feb. 15. He wants the U.S. government to investigate what caused the spill and why his city's residents weren't notified of the contamination.
The commission said the leak was likely caused by sewer construction gone wrong. The State Public Services Commission of Tijuana repaired a sewer line last month and, during the repairs, diverted sewage into the Tijuana River.
Roberto Espinoza, an engineer and representative for Mexico's arm of the International Boundaries Water Commission, said at a previous meeting that a pipe in the main line near the Tijuana and Alamar Rivers' intersection failed under pressure from recent storms. He added that the leak was not intentional and happened during an emergency repair.
A preliminary U.S. investigation determined the spill released upwards of 143 million gallons of raw sewage, but Mexico disputes that.
The investigation on the spill and a report must be submitted within 30 days, per an agreement between U.S. Commissioner Edward Drusina and Mexican Commissioner Roberto Salmon. The commission’s binational Water Quality Work Group will handle the investigation.
While in the area, Peters also met with city officials from Coronado, Imperial Beach, and local clean water advocates.