Many Tijuana residents woke up on Wednesday (January 10th) to find garbage in the streets and no running water in their homes.
The state’s water utility, known by its initials CESPT, had planned to suspend water service for two days starting January 10th, and they did: 284 neighborhoods — around 600,000 people — in Tijuana and Rosarito won’t have running water until January 12th.
The outage came after two days of heavy rain that left many parts of the city without electricity for several hours. The strong winds caused utility poles, trees, and billboards to topple while the heavy rain created landslides and waterfalls of black water carrying garbage.
The shutdown is to fix a leak that was discovered a year ago on the “Aguaje-Planetario” aqueduct. The leak became a crisis last week as more than 13 gallons of potable water were spilled per second.
“We need to suspend the flow of water so the workers can access the pipes,” said CESPT director Miguel Lemus Zendejas. “The repairs will take 15 hours concluding on early Thursday morning. The recovery of the system is slow.”
Some of the lower-elevation neighborhoods will get water by Thursday afternoon, but it won’t be until Friday evening for water to reach the higher parts. The repair to a mile-long 48-inch-wide pipe will cost 300,000 pesos (around $15,500).
Every time it rains, the city becomes chaotic: the streets become rivers, mudslides and car accidents occur, the Tijuana River is flushed with garbage, and polluted water flows across the border into Imperial Beach and Border Field State Park.
The pollution problem is more pronounced this time due to a backlog of garbage pick-ups. Since the beginning of 2017, there had been ongoing disputes between the local government and garbage collectors, causing delays in pick-ups; in some neighborhoods, trash has not been collected in weeks. On December 29th, garbage collectors stopped working until the government met their demands of new uniforms (jackets, gloves, and boots) and a pay bonus. The city had mountains of garbage on the street with rats happily feasting after New Year's celebrations.
The strike ceased on January 3rd after the city reportedly promised to meet their demands by January 16th; however, pick-up has been irregular in many neighborhoods. I have witnessed workers picking up trash with their bare hands as rats scurry away into the sewers.