Storms leave big mess in Tijuana River Valley

Posted at 5:16 PM, Jan 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-08 20:36:06-05

This week's El Niño-fueled storms left parts of the Tijuana River Valley looking like a landfill, and it could be a while before the area recovers.

The canyon known as Smuggler's Gulch, which regularly floods Monument Road, was hit particularly hard. On Friday, the channel was filled with trash ranging from tires and oil bottles, to clothing.

"This canyon that we're in goes into the Mexican side about two to three miles," pointed out Luis Rios, who has dual citizenship. "So everything that collects on those hillsides comes this way."

Rios, who was contracted by San Diego County to clear the channel a month ago, said the trash flowing into the Tijuana River Valley flowed mostly from Mexico. It then traveled through a tunnel that was built underneath an earthen wall that was built by the U.S. government along the U.S.-Mexico border.

"The volume of water that comes through this tunnel exceeds the four-foot culvert under [Monument Road]," explained Rios.

The massive flow from the weekend storms rushed under the border and bottlenecked at Monument Road when trash blocked that four-foot culvert. It forced the water and trash over the road and down into the Tijuana River Valley. That trash could eventually make its way into the Tijuana Estuary, Imperial Beach and other San Diego-area beaches.

In the meantime, the city of San Diego was working to clear the channels when the storms hit.

"Sadly, now that the rains have come, much of our work has been filled up again," said city spokesman Bill Harris, who added picking up the trash is not as easy as getting in the channel with garbage bags.

"You can't just walk in and start to work," he added.

Anyone who wants to clean the mess faces the same challenge the city does -- they need to get permits from a number of agencies.

"They've got to insure with the regulatory agencies that they're going to do a minimum amount of work that sticks strictly to trash," explained Harris. "Not pull up any vegetation, not move any sediment … It's a complicated process."

It is a process that will prevent the Tijuana River Valley from being cleaned up anytime soon.

"I wish we had a better system," said Rios.