SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — The Hollister Street Pumping Station is a beige-colored block building with no windows, the perimeter fenced off with concertina wire and locked gates, and no one pays much attention to it.
It was built to pump sewage that comes in from Mexico to wastewater facilities north of the border.
A few days ago, it broke down and many finally took notice.
When it malfunctioned, it forced two sewage collectors in the area to also go offline, allowing for more raw sewage to flow into the Tijuana River Valley and out into the Pacific Ocean.
“When those aren’t functioning properly, you have those spilling events out into the river valley,” said Paloma Aguirre, mayor of Imperial Beach. “The fact that every time there is flow in the Tijuana River, it is all tainted with sewage, it is all toxic and contaminated. And the moment it touches our coastal waters, it impacts and pollutes our entire coast.”
Aguirre blames similar spills for beach closures in her city and along the coast.
“It is the reason why the Border Field State Park beach has been closed 628 consecutive days, and our Imperial Beach shoreline has been closed every single day this year,” she said.
Last week, a water sample taken from a water delivery line tested positive for E. coli, Aguirre said, adding it wouldn’t surprise her if sewage from Mexico tainted the water.
The positive test forced a boil-water advisory for Imperial Beach, portions of the city of Coronado and South San Diego.
“They’re saying it’s unrelated to the sewage contamination, but there is no proof of that yet,” said the mayor. “We know the sewage can be proliferated through air to life form, meaning sea spray has the ability to travel through the air. Is it possible it landed on one of the samples that were taken? Absolutely it’s possible, and it is coincidental that the week after tropical storm Hilary, we have this, which we’ve never had.”
The Hollister Street Pumping Station has been repaired, but Aguirre worries the sewage infrastructure in the Tijuana River Valley still needs more attention.
“We’re talking about U.S. citizens, U.S. residents that are being treated as second-class citizens,” she said. “Things are only going to continue to get worse unless we get the attention and resources that we need from our federal and state governments.”
Money from the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement has been set aside to fund sewage infrastructure projects in the Tijuana River Valley and in the Tijuana area.
The Environmental Protection Agency has budgeted the money and has promised to begin work by early next year.