• Home Home

Report sounds alarm on horrific conditions impacting community: 'Who wants to buy a house in the neighborhood that smells like sewage?'

"The quality of life is diminished a lot."

"The quality of life is diminished a lot."

Photo Credit: iStock

A report by San Diego State University researchers called the Tijuana River, which straddles the United States and Mexico border, a "public health crisis" because of large amounts of urban runoff and raw sewage detected in the water. 

Not only are the pathogens and industrial chemicals dangerous to public health, but they're also creating a horrible stench that people can smell from miles away, as Inside Climate News reported

What's happening?

According to a press release from SDSU, researchers found "contamination flowing from Mexico into South San Diego." Extending around 120 miles from Mexico to California, the Tijuana River eventually empties into the Pacific Ocean on the southern edge of San Diego. 

The SDSU release stated that over 100 billion gallons of untreated sewage and pollutants have entered the Tijuana Estuary and the Pacific Ocean in just the past five years.

As the Guardian reported, communities near the border have been complaining of the putrid smell and voicing their concerns about getting sick from the river for decades, but worsening storms have amplified the crisis. 

"It's horrible," Jose Cariman, a San Diego resident two miles from Tijuana, told Inside Climate News. "The quality of life is diminished a lot, the price of the house is diminished 'cause who wants to buy a house in the neighborhood that smells like sewage?"

Recent historic atmospheric rivers inundated sewage treatment plants near the border, sending an estimated 14.5 billion gallons of raw sewage into the river. Wastewater contamination in the ocean has forced impacted beaches to close for over 700 consecutive days, according to the Guardian.

Why is the pollution in the Tijuana River concerning?

As the news outlets said, raw sewage in the Tijuana River is causing public health hazards for beachgoers and people near the river. However, it can affect residents who live farther away as well.

The SDSU report found elevated levels of heavy metals and toxic chemicals in soil near the Tijuana River and chemicals in the air over coastal waters. If the contaminants enter waterways or get carried by the wind elsewhere, it could affect people miles from the river.

Many people have already gotten sick from bacterial infections from exposure to untreated wastewater. 

As Inside Climate News reported, when Tropical Storm Hilary slammed San Diego in 2023, it caused a pump failure at the sewage treatment plant, sending contaminated wastewater into the streets. 

Following the storm, doctors noticed a considerable uptick in patients with gastrointestinal illnesses, which they believe came from people tracking dirty water into their homes. 

What's being done to clean up the river?

Thankfully, the U.S. and Mexican governments and local officials are working to tackle the pollution. In January, Mexico began constructing a new wastewater treatment plant to replace a rundown facility six miles from the border, the Guardian reported. 

In 2020, Congress also approved a $300 million fund to expand the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant, though appeals from South Bay officials for additional funding to go toward repairs had yet to be approved by Congress as of late February. 

Join our free newsletter for easy tips to save more, waste less, and help yourself while helping the planet.

Cool Divider