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Tijuana sewage crisis forces YMCA surf camp to bus kids from Imperial Beach to Mission Beach

YMCA surf camp
YMCA surf camp sign
Posted at 5:00 PM, Jul 10, 2024

IMPERIAL BEACH, Calif. (KGTV) — On a hazy, warm day with a slight breeze flowing off the Pacific Ocean, the conditions were ideal to hit the waves at the YMCA Camp Surf in Imperial Beach.

However, there was one major problem.

“We have Camp Surf here in Imperial Beach. Oceanfront camp: One of the most amazing camp locations in the country. But we can’t go in the ocean because we are experiencing pollution from the Tijuana River," said Jamie Cosson, executive director of YMCA Overnight Camps.

YMCA Surf Camp counselor breaks down sewage issue, transportation hassle

Cosson said kids and staffers come from all over the world to attend Camp Surf.

But sewage from the Tijuana River has brought complications to what's supposed to be a fun, easygoing camp.

The pollution has forced the YMCA to move the surfing part of the camp from Imperial Beach, which is right on the coast, to Mission Beach.

He said the additional busing has cost the YMCA an extra $100,000 in cost, and moving the surfing experience has caused a roughly 40% drop in campers the past three years.

“We have over 50 years of safe and amazing programs using the ocean surfing, bodyboarding and things like that," Cosson said. "In 2022, our ocean was closed 50% of the time. In 2023, 80%, and essentially this year it's 100% of the time.”

Cosson said the YMCA could have surfed in neighboring Coronado, but those beaches also are polluted and closed.

Team 10 investigator Craig Harris shows surf camp's sewage struggle

The camp still attracts more than 100 kids between the ages of 8 to 17.

And some come from great distances.

One 11-year-old who came from Spain said her mom wanted her to find a place where she could learn to surf and make friends.

Other kids said they still were having fun playing on the beach right next to the camp, but they didn't like the bus rides that could range from 30 minutes to an hour in order to surf.

However, once they got to Mission Beach, it wasn't so bad.

Team 10 investigator Craig Harris tracks surf camp bus

Cosson said he recognizes the federal government has allocated millions of dollars this year to help fix the sewage problem, but he said more needs to be done.

“We just want to see action on this issue. These experiences are life changing for kids," he said. "We really need more support from the federal government to really solve this issue. At the end of the day, who suffers is the kids."