Imperial Beach businesses hurt by sewage & runoff related closures

Surf stores hit hard during difficult 2017 winter
Posted at 7:06 AM, Jun 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-08 10:06:27-04

Beach related businesses had a difficult 2017 season in Imperial Beach. Store owners say they lost dozens of days' worth of customers because the beach had to be closed when sewage and rain runoff contaminated the water off the coast.

"It's had a great impact," says Tim Townsley, the owner of TNT Surf Shop. "Some days, when the signs are up, nobody's coming in. There's nobody on the streets. You go down to the beach, there's just nobody down there."

Imperial Beach officials had to close the shoreline several times during the winter and throughout 2017 because of multiple sewage spills from Mexico. The worst came in March when 250 million gallons of sewage spilled into the ocean.

"You could smell it 10 streets back from the beach," says Townsend. "Your eyes would water, there was a cloud up and down the beach. It was overwhelming."

It's become a big concern for city leaders. Recently, Imperial Beach joined a lawsuit against the International Boundary Water Commission, saying the IBWC hasn't done enough to protect the ocean.

Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina is fed up. He wants to see solutions, fast.

"This isn't rocket science. We're not going to Mars. We're just fixing a sewer system that every major city in the world has," he says.

The IBWC has held several meetings about the issue in the past 18 months, including one on June 7. In it, people brought up the ideas of water basins and sand berms to protect the coast. But paying for all that, as well as getting approval to build it, could take years.

Meanwhile, Townsley hopes tourists can look beyond the smell and see Imperial Beach for the booming community it's become.

"This is a great town," he says. "It's safe. It's a wonderful place to visit, we just have this intermittent problem with the sewage."