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Sewage Is At An Almost Continual State of Presence in the Imperial Beach Coronado Corridor! Another 350,000 Gallons Have Spilled Into The Ocean

May 28, 2017 12:50PM ● By Linda Heath

Sewage Is At An Almost Continual State of Presence in the Imperial Beach Coronado Corridor!  Another 335,000 Gallons Have Spilled! The Past Few Days There Has Been Almost 700,000 Gallons of Sewage Spilled, This is Unacceptable! 

The news has been publishing the recent sewage flows from the Tijuana River.  It is seriously impacting our environment and quality of life, not to mention economically.  There are times because of the way things are monitored and reported that data from the monitoring system shows major flow activity yet the beach closure data shows clean water! It can be very confusing for people. It appears that some Officials and businesses are purportedly stating that the beaches are safe and free of contamination, but the data can say otherwise or vice versa due to the time it takes for testing to come back or the way data is collected and reported. We take a look at the way data collection and reporting is done now and make some suggestions on ways that it can be done better.

Saturday Night (5/27) TV News Report
County of San Diego Beach Water Quality Web-site 

In the past, information was not always forthcoming from the Mexican or US International Boundary and Water Commission or done in a timely manner. On lots of occasions information came or comes first from citizens who are experiencing the smell of sewage and living by the river and directly seeing the flow. If we don’t have timely information, how can we keep our beaches and the Estuary clean when we don't have confirmation from official sources because the minimal testing being done takes over 18 hours and more regularly 48-72 hours. By then it is too late and many people, animals and sea life have already been exposed.

It is critical that we have a plan in place which sets aside funding for testing over and above what is being done now.  The General Fund could support this and perhaps funding from the City of San Diego or The Unified Port Authority even State of California and the US Emergency funds for Disaster Relief!  Why are we waiting and what is the resistance from above??

The following is a rebuttal letter which documentation and suggestions are made for testing, where to test, what to test for and how often:

(Note from Editor: Linda Heath is a former Nurse, Medical Technologist and Histologist Pathology Manager with over 30 years’ experience

What is a Histotechnology

Medical Technologist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements)

May 20, 2017

San Diego County Dep't of Environmental Health (DEH)

Land and Water Quality Division

Attn:  Keith Kezer, Program Coordinator

Dear Mr. Kezer,

A short time ago, ABC news reported that the Beaches from the Mexican Border through Imperial Beach and up to the Hotel Del Coronado were contaminated with raw sewage and that the same afternoon the Contamination signs were removed by Lifeguards on the beaches in the aforementioned areas.  It seemed to be due to the Mother’s Day Holiday on Sunday.  There were questions asked on behalf of the area Communities and Citizenry by Daron Case a resident of the Coronado Cays and avid Surfer and Photographer. He has given me permission to add to the questions and note further commentary to them.  I am a resident of Imperial Beach (IB) and a concerned Citizen. I am a former Nurse, Medical Technologist, and Histologist Pathology Manager with over 30 years’ experience and I would like to contribute my expertise in asking questions and providing further answers to them.  I would first like to state that I appreciate the candor from Mr. Kezer and make no accusations, but make suggestions which could be implemented to benefit our Communities and that of our Visitors to the beaches, make economic improvements and improve quality of life for the Citizenry of these Communities.  I have listed only one reference for each section, as it would be impossible to list all pertinent materials.

QUESTION: Where and how often does DEH take water samples in IB and Coronado?

ANSWER: Through the "summer season" (which you indicated as from April - October) the DEH only does one routine test per week which is at the IB pier. Why isn’t more extensive testing being done in consideration of the almost continual sewage flows from Mexico and the delay in reporting of these by the IBWC and the major spill in February?  There are 100’s of Scientific publications and Research Articles which support daily testing in several places in areas of frequent contamination by sewage, trash, medical waste, chemicals and Heavy metals.

An alternative approach to water regulations for public health protection at bathing beaches.

During the winter season, DEH has two routine tests per week at 7 locations - South Seacoast, Cortez, IB Pier, Carnation, and 3 locations along the Strand - entrance to park, lifeguard tower, and north end of RV campground. However, City of San Diego (wastewater division) also tests multiple locations per week year-round, and DEH relies on City testing as well. When there are "exceedances" (i.e., when testing reveals acceptable limits have been exceeded, after rains or when there are reports of contamination), testing is more frequent until levels are clear. There should be consistency in testing and the same locations tested each time.  The testing is only done on E coli and total coliforms which are only indicators and not evidence of the potential deadly bacterial, viral, fungi and amoebic parasitic organisms present which effect Human, wildlife, and sea creature health. A sample of these organisms and testing:

The coastal environment and human health: microbial indicators, pathogens, sentinels, and reservoirs

During the “Rainy” season and whenever there is trash flow from the Tijuana River, there should be testing for Chemicals, Heavy Metals, Medical waste, and Pesticides such as DDT.  Tires alone contribute over 40 chemicals which “leach” out over time and more rapidly when broken up.  They also contribute to the growth of dangerous vectors (mosquitos) due to standing water. 

Is Rubber Mulch a Safe Surface for your Child's Playground  (effect of tires when they are broken down)

The interaction of human microbial pathogens, particulate material and nutrients in estuarine environments and their impacts on recreational and shellfish waters.  (Estuary)

 I would suggest the addition of very effective Containment Booms and other natural methods to decrease the amount of sewage and trash, chemicals, heavy metals, and medical waste coming through our Estuary and progressing to our beaches.  There are filtering and vacuum systems known to work very well in removing these elements, especially plastics, natural microorganisms which consume raw sewage and plants which filter and consume them too.  The prime concern should be to maintain the natural healthy quality of our wetlands and beaches by the most effective and natural methods available.

QUESTION: How long does it take for DEH to get lab results back after taking the water


ANSWER: DEH has two types of testing (entero alert and multiple tube fermentation). The entero alert gets response within 24 hours. Multiple tube fermentation can take 48-96 hours for results. For both types of tests, "preliminary" results can come back as soon as 18 hours. The City of San Diego wastewater uses "membrane filtration" testing which takes 24 hours, but they can also have preliminary results back as soon as 18 hours. "Preliminary" results happen when bacteria levels rise to levels that indicate an exceedance before the full culture incubation/fermentation period.  MULTIPLE TUBE FERMENTATION TECHNIQUE (9221)/Standard Total Coliform Fermentation Technique: The coliform group consists of several genera of bacteria, facultative anaerobic, non-spore forming, gram negative rod-shaped types through lactose fermentation technique.  This excludes many bacteria of health concern.  There is also a necessity of very specific collection and quality control, which should be conducted by people familiar and trained in this aspect. There are rapid tests which deliver results immediately and should be considered so that the beaches can be closed immediately instead of exposing people, animals, and sea life to the contamination.

QUESTION: What exactly is DEH testing for?

ANSWERAll testing for DEH and City of San Diego is for the same 3 things - i.e., enterococcus, total coliform, and fecal coliform, which are "indicator bacteria and pathogens." The following articles denote the importance of testing for major disease-causing agents present in sewage contamination and ways to combat them:

Water Microbiology. Bacterial Pathogens and Water

World Health Organization World Water Day Report

Water Pollution: Disease Causing Agents

Water Microbiology. Bacterial Pathogens and Water
Public Health Effects of Inadequately Managed Stormwater Runoff

Human viruses in water

Why Control Sanitary Sewer Overflows?

Global Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene (WASH)

California's living marine resources : a status report


As a further note, why do we not test air quality especially in the Tijuana River Valley and the Tijuana Sloughs, and why are we not testing the waters of the Estuary which is the only land area which can help filter the pollution, and further is an essential habitat and nesting area for many endangered birds, plants, and insects? It is also important that we should be performing necropsies on animals and fish found dead in water and on the beaches to determine causative agents which resulted in death.

QUESTION: Who directly gives the lifeguards the order to post and/or remove the contamination signs?

ANSWER: there are 3 different lifeguard groups - IB lifeguards, Silver Strand State Beach lifeguards, and Coronado lifeguards. The DEH contacts each relevant lifeguard group with their test results so each group can dispatch lifeguards to post or remove signs as necessary. Why are the lifeguards not given the authority to place the contamination signs as soon as the “smell” and “brown water” are noted, rather than waiting until after results are communicated (24-72 hours or more later).  They are the first line of defense as are the Border Patrol Officers (Who have had documented illnesses recorded due to the pollution).  In Coronado, it is essential to publicly place the signs as our Navy SEAL Teams train in these waters.  It has been noted that for at least 60 years and probably more, that many surfers become ill with a variety of illness and some have even died due to the exposure.

QUESTION: Does the DEH test the beach sand as well as the water? If there are harmful pathogens and bacteria in the ocean water, wouldn't they also be in the beach sand? Could the sand be contaminated longer than the water?

ANSWER: DEH and City of San Diego does not test beach sand. While bacteria/pathogens may exist on the beach sand, Keith said they should not last longer in sand than water, so when the water is deemed clear, the sand should be clear as well. Keith also pointed out that as all results are a day behind (due to minimum 18 hours for preliminary results), then by the time the water is deemed safe, the sand should be safe as well. But while contamination signs are up, the beach sand that has come in contact with the contaminated water may also present some health risks.  There is much documentation about pathogens contained in beach sand, and the presence of heavy metals and medical waste.  This especially true of the pathogenic agents and other metals and chemicals trapped in “Bio-film” which is a slime which can grow in the pollution.  It has been documented that these organisms and metals and chemical and medical waste can be upwards of 100 times more concentrated in the beach sand than the water and can exist there for many months and even years.  (medical waste)   (heavy metals)   (sand)

QUESTION: Does the DEH have any influences for water testing from any staff or elected officials of the Cities of IB and Coronado? For instance, does DEH get "pressure" from any source to test more often sometimes, such as in advance of a holiday weekend? If so, who, exactly, is applying such pressure to test?

ANSWER: Yes, there is a lot of pressure for information and for more frequent tests, particularly while beaches are closed. Keith mentioned there are elected officials and even hotels (e.g., the Del, Loews, etc.) that push for information and testing. Important to note this is just a push for information and testing, but this does not influence the testing results. It is important to note that the Communities of Imperial Beach, Coronado, and the Coronado Cays depend heavily upon Tourism and the Navy.  The economics of a polluted beach has a significant impact on these communities and the beaches are closed more days a year than they are open.  The health issues experienced by Residents from polluted water and intensely fouled air quality are wide ranging and impact the quality of life, we who live here expect and why we live here.

CONCLUSION: after speaking with Mr. Kezer, I understand what happened last Friday when ABC News 10 reported beaches closed up to the Del in the morning, then the beaches were opened by DEH the same afternoon. Kezer explained the beaches were actually deemed closed on Thursday up to Avenida Lunar in Coronado... that was based on test results from Wednesday. Then further testing was done on Thursday that led to the clearance of beaches on Friday. The DEH and City of San Diego are always at least a day behind in their testing. This presents some concerns, as whenever you see beach closure signs go up, that means the beaches were contaminated the day before... I have surfed many times the day before contamination signs have gone up... that means I was surfing in contaminated water. I think there are many ways "the system" can be improved - e.g., it would be helpful to have more frequent and more comprehensive testing... and if possible it would be ideal to get response times quicker than a minimum of 18 hours for "preliminary results," as this obviously presents a lot of problems with folks swimming in contaminated water before test results have come back and contamination signs are posted. I concur with the assessment delivered here and hope there are attempts being made now to remedy these issues and stop the destruction of our beaches, the Estuary, and the Sloughs.  I have been given permission by Mr., Case, and Mr. Kezer to expand on these questions and answers.  I suggest more in-depth and frequent testing, utilizing consistent sites of collection consistent and quality controlled sampling and training of individuals doing the sampling.  I strongly suggest testing the beach sands at various levels from the waterline to 1 ½ feet beyond high tide lines and area between the two.  I would further suggest necropsies on any animals and fish found dead in the water or on the beach. It should be possible to install an early warning system as other states and countries such as an alarm horn which monitors air quality and color of the water and alerts immediately when conditions indicate a contamination event. I also suggest keeping a record of human illnesses especially those which required treatment such as hospital data and Emergency room visits to assist in the determination of prominent pathogens involved and how to treat them and maintain data to support issues which need to be improved.


Linda Heath

1451 Elder Ave., Apt. K

San Diego, CA 92154

Special Note, this information has been forwarded to state, local and national officials, The Us Secretary of State, CA and US EPA, CA and US NOAA, State Lab, SDSU Research Lab, Advisory Council for the Tijuana estuary, WHO, The Ocean Alliance and will be mailed to a variety of others
Linda Heath, Senior Reporter Associate Editor,


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