An entire canyon full of “toxic sludge” threatened to pour into San Diego county Friday as Tijuana authorities worked to mitigate a sewage crisis just south of the international border.
A San Diego police helicopter hovered above the Tijuana River Valley Friday near “Smuggler’s Gulch” on the US side warning people to seek higher ground.
The only thing keeping the mixture of storm water, human waste, and garbage in Mexico is a blockage of mattresses and other debris inside a culvert near the border according to San Diego county leaders.
"It's sewage, it's storm water, it's trash, it's construction debris, it's tires, it's dead animals, and it's all stuck at smugglers gulch in Matadero Canyon on the Mexican side" said Imperial Beach City Councilmember Paloma Aguirre.
The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board warned a sudden unclogging of the culvert could send the estimated 90-million gallons downstream into the open space on the U.S. side filled with mountain bikers, hikers, and horses.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection told the San Diego Police Department Friday it was working to cut down and remove trees that were blocking the flow of water. As a result roads were closed within 100 yards east and west of Smugglers Gulch.
CBP later said the trees wouldn't be removed Friday, and couldn't give an estimate on when the flow of water would start.
The coastline of Imperial Beach, which has been closed since late November due to toxic runoff leaking from Mexico , would take a direct hit.
“Hopefully it's pumped out of there and sent to the treatment plant for treatment. Nobody wants to see this toxic sludge go into the beach" said Aguirre.
The problem according to Aguirre, is half the critical pump stations serving the Tijuana border area have been knocked out in recent weeks and aren’t working.
Tijuana leaders were still evaluating how to move forward with portable pumps.
Several San Diego area agencies volunteered resources but remained on stand-by.
The situation could carry some more long lasting concerns, according to Dave Gibson, executive director of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control board.
Gibson worries the millions of dollars recently pledged by Mexico's federal government to fix the failing pump stations in Tijuana could get diverted towards more temporary emergency repairs.