‘It’s a major problem’: Border beaches closed again due to contamination from Tijuana River

Border Report

IMPERIAL BEACH, Calif. – The Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge and shorelines in Imperial Beach were closed Thursday due to sewage-contaminated runoff from the Tijuana River Valley.

Signs now are posted along the shoreline warning visitors to keep out of the water. It is just the latest closure in what has been a decades-long struggle with pollution at city beaches stemming from the flow of raw sewage into the ocean in the area.

Despite the yellow warning signs, many visitors were seen jumping into the water Thursday.

But not Imperial Beach resident Tom Vrooman. Although he grew up surfing in these waters, he said he decided to stay out of it this time due to the contamination level.

“This morning, we were up here and the signs weren’t up,” he said. “Came back down here. I brought a pair of fins because I was going to go out in the water and the sign was up.”

A retired paramedic, Vrooman says he wouldn’t recommend anyone swim out with the water in this condition. He has seen firsthand the health repercussions of doing so, as has fellow Imperial Beach resident Joseph Decong.

“Terrible ear infections,” Decong said. “I have had my ears drilled because of the surf and the pollution, respiratory infections, staph infections.”

Decong has been surfing at Imperial Beach for more than three decades. He called it ironic that “that the thing we love the most, that we are most passionate about is often the thing that hurts us.”

“We are quite often willing to pay the price, time and again,” Decong said.

According to San Diego County’s Beach and Bay Water Quality Program, Imperial Beach is sampled daily and states water is generally good during dry months. However, cross border flows from the Tijuana River can be transported by ocean currents resulting in closures.

The State Water Resources Control Board tests the waters for, e-coli, enterococcus and total coliforms, which are all harmful bacteria that can cause illness.

Local lifeguards don’t recommend getting in the water while there is contamination, but they are not attempting to stop anyone. But if a lifeguard makes a rescue while the beach is closed during contaminated waters, the person being rescued will receive a fine.

“They have to realize we have a problem,” Vrooman said. “It’s a major problem. It’s not going away. It’s not magic. It’s hard work.”

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