Large Sewage Spill in Mexico Flows North of the Border for 17 Days
A spill that originated in the Tijuana River in Mexico flowed north of the border, releasing 143 million gallons of sewage for 17 days. The spill was caused when a sewage pipe under rehabilitation ruptured at the juncture of Mexico's Tijuana and Alamar rivers. While three-quarters of the Tijuana River watershed is located in Mexico, it drains into the Pacific Ocean near Imperial Beach, California.
"It's horrible. Everybody is complaining about it. People are really upset with the smell," Imperial Beach resident Lidya Morales told FOX 5.
"This is the worst spill we've had in over a decade," Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina exclaimed.
After receiving complaints about the odor, Dedina sent a written inquiry to the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC). The agency then provided him a report regarding the spill.
"It's a major communication failure. It's obviously something they knew for a very long time," Dedina said. "Border authorities charged with managing sewage infrastructure and reporting these spills must do better and be held accountable for this act," the mayor said as he called for the resignation of IBWC chief Edward Drusina for his poor management of cross-border wastewater issues.
"It's outrageous that we have sewage spills of this magnitude occurring under the watch of the IBWC, and it's equally outrageous there aren't proper procedures in place to notify the public when sewage releases occur," Matt O'Malley of the San Diego Coastkeeper told EcoWatch.
"This is not just an environmental failure—it's a failure to protect the public health of those who live, work and recreate along the Tijuana River, Imperial Beach and beyond. The circumstances surrounding this spill and the failure to timely release information related to it should be investigated and prevented from happening again. Officials on both sides of the border must make sewage infrastructure in the region a top priority."
Coincidentally, local South Bay beaches were already closed due to sewage run-off from the recent rainstorms. A 2012 sewage spill caused by a similar Tijuana pipe breakage, which spewed almost 3 million gallons of sewage into the Pacific, had closed Imperial Beach for several days.
A portion of the Tijuana River near the San Diego-Mexico border, full of trash and debris. Susan Murphy, KPBS
This highly polluted river has many sources and is a persistent issue, which has cost the U.S. and Mexico hundreds of millions of dollars. Since the 1990s, the U.S. and Mexico have created programs to cooperatively address the issue, including the Minute 320 accord, which established a "general framework for binational cooperation" between the countries "on transboundary issues in the Tijuana River Basin."
Some areas in Mexico, including Tijuana, currently lack sufficient sewage infrastructure and garbage collection, and some residences do not have any form of plumbing. Along with population growth, this "has resulted in large amounts of human and industrial sewage, plastics and other forms of garbage accumulating in the river," Western Washington University's Huxley College of the Environment explained. Factories in the Mexican state of Baja California also contribute to pollution in the Tijuana River, KCET reported.
The river is bisected by the current U.S.-Mexico border wall, which President Trump plans to expand. The 2008 reinforcement of this wall "razed entire mountaintops and used the earth to fill in gulches and canyons," increasing erosion and contamination issues, KCET said.
Trump’s Wall 'Would End Any Chance of Recovery for Endangered Jaguars' https://t.co/FLsdp8LJcP @EnvAm @earthisland— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1485563412.0
"Significant improvements in the arena of wastewater treatment in recent years have improved water quality on both sides of the border," the Surfrider Foundation said. Unfortunately, storm water still brings substantial amounts of pollution into the Tijuana River Watershed. Their "No Border Sewage Campaign," which started in 2008, seeks to address this issue through outreach, networking and education.
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By Eric Tate and Christopher Emrich
Disasters stemming from hazards like floods, wildfires, and disease often garner attention because of their extreme conditions and heavy societal impacts. Although the nature of the damage may vary, major disasters are alike in that socially vulnerable populations often experience the worst repercussions. For example, we saw this following Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, each of which generated widespread physical damage and outsized impacts to low-income and minority survivors.
Mapping Social Vulnerability<p>Figure 1a is a typical map of social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract level based on the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) algorithm of <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1540-6237.8402002" target="_blank"><em>Cutter et al.</em></a> . Spatial representation of the index depicts high social vulnerability regionally in the Southwest, upper Great Plains, eastern Oklahoma, southern Texas, and southern Appalachia, among other places. With such a map, users can focus attention on select places and identify population characteristics associated with elevated vulnerabilities.</p>
Fig. 1. (a) Social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract scale is mapped here following the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI). Red and pink hues indicate high social vulnerability. (b) This bivariate map depicts social vulnerability (blue hues) and annualized per capita hazard losses (pink hues) for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019.<p>Many current indexes in the United States and abroad are direct or conceptual offshoots of SoVI, which has been widely replicated [e.g., <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13753-016-0090-9" target="_blank"><em>de Loyola Hummell et al.</em></a>, 2016]. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/placeandhealth/svi/index.html" target="_blank">has also developed</a> a commonly used social vulnerability index intended to help local officials identify communities that may need support before, during, and after disasters.</p><p>The first modeling and mapping efforts, starting around the mid-2000s, largely focused on describing spatial distributions of social vulnerability at varying geographic scales. Over time, research in this area came to emphasize spatial comparisons between social vulnerability and physical hazards [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-009-9376-1" target="_blank"><em>Wood et al.</em></a>, 2010], modeling population dynamics following disasters [<a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11111-008-0072-y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Myers et al.</em></a>, 2008], and quantifying the robustness of social vulnerability measures [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-012-0152-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate</em></a>, 2012].</p><p>More recent work is beginning to dissolve barriers between social vulnerability and environmental justice scholarship [<a href="https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304846" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Chakraborty et al.</em></a>, 2019], which has traditionally focused on root causes of exposure to pollution hazards. Another prominent new research direction involves deeper interrogation of social vulnerability drivers in specific hazard contexts and disaster phases (e.g., before, during, after). Such work has revealed that interactions among drivers are important, but existing case studies are ill suited to guiding development of new indicators [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2015.09.013" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Rufat et al.</em></a>, 2015].</p><p>Advances in geostatistical analyses have enabled researchers to characterize interactions more accurately among social vulnerability and hazard outcomes. Figure 1b depicts social vulnerability and annualized per capita hazard losses for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019, facilitating visualization of the spatial coincidence of pre‑event susceptibilities and hazard impacts. Places ranked high in both dimensions may be priority locations for management interventions. Further, such analysis provides invaluable comparisons between places as well as information summarizing state and regional conditions.</p><p>In Figure 2, we take the analysis of interactions a step further, dividing counties into two categories: those experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019. The differences among individual race, ethnicity, and poverty variables between the two county groups are small. But expressing race together with poverty (poverty attenuated by race) produces quite different results: Counties with high hazard losses have higher percentages of both impoverished Black populations and impoverished white populations than counties with low hazard losses. These county differences are most pronounced for impoverished Black populations.</p>
Fig. 2. Differences in population percentages between counties experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019 for individual and compound social vulnerability indicators (race and poverty).<p>Our current work focuses on social vulnerability to floods using geostatistical modeling and mapping. The research directions are twofold. The first is to develop hazard-specific indicators of social vulnerability to aid in mitigation planning [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-020-04470-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate et al.</em></a>, 2021]. Because natural hazards differ in their innate characteristics (e.g., rate of onset, spatial extent), causal processes (e.g., urbanization, meteorology), and programmatic responses by government, manifestations of social vulnerability vary across hazards.</p><p>The second is to assess the degree to which socially vulnerable populations benefit from the leading disaster recovery programs [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/17477891.2019.1675578" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Emrich et al.</em></a>, 2020], such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) <a href="https://www.fema.gov/individual-disaster-assistance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Individual Assistance</a> program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) <a href="https://www.hudexchange.info/programs/cdbg-dr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Disaster Recovery</a> program. Both research directions posit social vulnerability indicators as potential measures of social equity.</p>