Christopher Harris: “Anywhere else in the country, this area would be a Superfund site.”
Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina and Councilman Mark West are out to change how the federal government deals with sewage that comes into the the city from Mexico. They’ve gained an unexpected partner: the union that represents U.S. Border Patrol agents who work close to where the dumps occur.
Serge Dedina: “The border patrol union was instrumental in getting (congressional representatives) Darrell Issa’s support and Duncan Hunter’s.”
“They’ve been really important partners,” Dedina says. “They’ve been really great at reporting and documenting all these spills.”
Dedina, who is the executive director of Wildcoast, and West, a retired Navy officer who is a past chairman of the Surfrider Foundation and led the group’s No Border Sewage campaign, have rallied residents, their groups’ resources, and politicians. In a city where fostering ecotourism is a goal, the beaches can’t be closed by sewage part of the year.
With the unusual coalition of law enforcement and environmentalists — two groups (though not the same people) who were fighting each other in court ten years ago are planning how they move forward.
“The border patrol union was instrumental in getting (congressional representatives) Darrell Issa’s support and Duncan Hunter’s,” Dedina said. “The response has to be federal. There’s no other government level where this can be addressed.”
National Border Patrol Council chapter 1613 representative Christopher Harris, a former active duty border patrol agent – represents many of the approximately 400 agents assigned to the Imperial Beach station located just north of the river, next to the Navy’s Imperial Beach helicopter training field.
Not only has Harris been working the union’s connections to Hunter and Issa, he has his eye on the Trump administration, which carried the union’s endorsement into the presidential election.
“Everyone has slightly different agendas but we all recognize this is a nonpartisan issue,” Harris says. What he sees as a lack of action on the part of the Environmental Protection Agency and the IBWC bothers him.
“We have to get out of the paradigm of shrugging and saying it’s Mexico, what can we do?” he says. “Anywhere else in the country, this area would be a Superfund site.”
It’s been an unusually terrible season for Imperial Beach beaches, and for the river valley. On February 6, border patrol agents told their command about the disgusting sights and smells in the Tijuana River — which is dry much of the year. Valley residents and visitors had also noticed the stench but it was the Imperial Beach border patrol station that reported it to the International Boundary and Water Commission.
An estimated 143 million gallons of sewage flowed freely into the valley from Feb. 6 to Feb. 23, according to a report released in April. The dump resulted from an emergency repair of a sewage main in Tijuana , where crews diverted raw sewage into the river channel while they worked to repair the pipe.
Throughout the 17 days of sewage flowing down the five or six miles of river bed at a rate of about 300 liters per second, the International Boundary and Water Commission didn’t send out notifications on the email list of people and agencies that want to be notified of such events.
The agency — created by Congress as part of the State Department — was already Dedina’s target. Last September, he called for the resignation of its chief — a call that received no response from the agency.
Another sewage dump from Mexico into the Tijuana River Valley, (335,000 gallons on May 24th) prompted fresh outrage that will undoubtedly be discussed at the IBWC meeting tonight (Thursday).
State Water Quality Control Board executive director Dave Gibson — who has spent five years pushing the Tijuana River Valley Recovery Team to commit to action — welcomes the angry involvement of residents and border patrol agents.
Gibson: “It’s time we actively manage the main channel and intercept the trash and sewage so they don’t end up going through our parks onto the beach and in the ocean.”