Valley Still Covered In Trash Nearly Three Months After Floods Tormented The Community

Source: X/Port of San Diego

The Tijuana River Valley, located in the southern section of San Diego, is still dealing with the aftermath of a January storm that caused billions of gallons of sewage to flood the community. Cleanup efforts are ongoing, but residents fear that the crisis will continue as the rainy season rages on. 

Sewage Crisis Has Haunted Tijuana River Valley For Decades

Unfortunately, this is nothing new for those who live in the Tijuana River Valley – and Tijuana’s outdated sewage and stormwater infrastructure is primarily to blame. All that sewage finds its way into the Tijuana River, which eventually floods into the Tijuana River Valley when it rains. 

Source: X/Port of San Diego

Mexico isn’t doing anything to solve its sewage problem, and the United States isn’t doing enough to solve the flooding problem. It’s a vicious cycle that has plagued the valley for several decades, and it doesn’t seem to be coming to an end anytime soon. 

2021: EPA Pledges $630 Billion To Curb Crisis

In 2021, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pledged $630 billion to help curb the crisis that has unfolded along the Tijuana River Valley. They described it as a ‘holistic approach to address water pollution from the Tijuana River watershed.’

Source: Skyhobo from Getty Images Signature via Canva

The money was being used to add pump stations, increase capacity to systems already in place, install trash booms, and upgrade treatment plants. “It’s a good plan; it addresses beach pollution, canyon pollution, and Tijuana River pollution as well,” said Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina.

Aug. 2023: Sewage Crisis After Hurricane Hillary

In August 2023, Tijuana’s sewage systems collapsed after Hurricane Hillary ravaged the Pacific Coast of Mexico, the Baja California Peninsula, and the Southwestern United States. It was the fourth major hurricane of the 2023 hurricane season. 

Source: deberarr from Getty Images Pro via Canva

According to the International Boundary and Water Commission, two billion gallons of contaminated water flowed across the border during and after the storm. By the time it was over, Imperial Beach was instituting its first-ever boil water advisory – for three whole days! 

Oct. 24: San Diego County Pledges $5 Million

On October 24 of last year, San Diego County announced it would spend $5 million to expand the removal of sewage and trash in the Tijuana River Valley. The project is primarily funded by a $4.25 million grant from the California Water Resources Control Board. 

Source: X/Port of San Diego

The money is expected to be used to build a sediment- and trash-control basin, and dredge the drainage channels that often fill up with debris – with a heavy emphasis on Smuggler’s Gulch and Pilot Channel. 

Jan. 22: ‘Sea Of Trash’ Floods Tijuana River Valley

On January 22, a winter storm made its way through San Diego and the Tijuana River Valley – sending more than 14.5 billion gallons of untreated raw sewage into the United States from Mexico. San Diego reported roughly 2.73 inches of rain on that day.

Source: X/Port of San Diego

“It is massive, it’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen. It’s a sea of trash,” said Imperial Beach Mayor Paloma Aguirre. “This a public health ticking time bomb. It affects us tremendously economically; it also effects our environment.”

Sewage Permeating Both Air And Water

The sewage is more than just an eyesore – it’s a health risk. With more than 100 billion gallons of sewage spilling over the border in the past five years, according to the IBWC, the pollution isn’t just affecting the water – it’s affecting the air, too. 

Source: X/U.S. Department of State

“Bacterial infections, viral infections, parasitic infections — all of these are a result of exposure to this runoff,” said Congressman Scott Peters. “I think I have described the cross-border sewage flows from Mexico into the United States as one of the biggest environmental catastrophes in the western hemisphere.”

Jan. 29: California Governor Urges Congress To Act

In 2020, Congress appropriated $300 million to renovate the South Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant. Unfortunately, the plant requires additional repairs and improvements that will cost another $150 million, and California is asking Congress to help.

Source: Wikimedia/Office of the Governor of California

On January 29, California Gov. Gavin Newsom urged Congress to $310 million proposal initially supported by the Biden Administration. His letter was addressed to high-ranking Democrats in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. 

February 2024: Imperial Beach Mayor Says Crisis Is Worsening

In February, Imperial Beach Mayor Paloma Aguirre took a trip to the city’s iconic pier, where she spoke to residents about the ongoing sewage crisis. She described it as the ‘border crisis nobody is talking about’ and continued to urge Congress to give the city funds.

Source: Flickr/Chloe Jones

“We’ve had the southern end of Imperial Beach closed for over 800 consecutive days, and in this stretch of beach where we’re at has been closed every single day this year and every single day last year,” she said – adding that the beach plays an important role in quality of life.

March 2024: Tijuana River Valley Cleanup Begins

In March, federal officials announced that the cleanup from January’s winter storm would begin soon – nearly three months after the sewage crossed the border. The city hired a contractor to assist with and lead the efforts, which are ongoing to this day.

Source: X/SDFD

Ever since the water receded, the Tijuana River Valley basin has been covered in buckets, trash, sewage, tires, cans, toxic waste, and even desks. It’s not only dangerous, but it’s an eyesore that many residents are growing tired of. 

Resident Complains Of Debris-Blanketed Land

One resident, Elizabeth Bagnas, has been patiently waiting for the debris to be cleaned up, and is happy to know that the process is underway, but she feels like it might be a little too late. 


“As the sun starts beating down in there, and it dries up, there’s going to be a smell coming out of this pile of trash, you just know it, it’s just a matter of time, but also there’s people that suffer from respiratory problems, like asthma,” she said.

Waiting For Sod Farm To Dry Out

IBWC spokesperson Morgan Rogers said the holdup was due to the sod farm not yet being dry enough to support the heavy machinery and equipment being used. That equipment is already being transported to the area, that way it’s ready when the time comes. 

Source: X/Kevin Faulconer

“It is still ponded with water and not capable of supporting heavy equipment needed for cleanup. Mobilization has already occurred with several pieces of equipment delivered from our TX field offices and standing by for drier conditions,” Rogers said. 

April 2024: Cleanup Continues With No End In Sight

Now in April, the cleanup continues as crews use the equipment to move and pile most of the trash and debris. The area is so dangerous that workers are being asked to wear hazmat suits – protecting them from the toxic chemicals on land, in water, and in the air.

Source: Wikimedia/Mark Ahsmann

While the trash gets piled up, the IBWC is hiring a contractor to haul away and properly dispose of it. Some of the items being found among the debris include hypodermic needles, dead animals, and even sex toys.

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Ryan Handson

Written by Ryan Handson

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