The Road to Barra

The road seemed endless. After ascending the highway along the 7,000-foot elevation pine-covered peaks that separates the valley of Oaxaca in south central Mexico from the Pacific Ocean, I expected a long but easy descent.

I was wrong.

Although we only had about 130 miles to reach the coastal resort town of Huatulco, we had another four hours of the windiest, curviest, scariest two-lane highway imaginable.

Members of Oaxaca’s diverse indigenous communities hiked along the highway that was lined with villages precariously perched among the pines along the steep cliffs.

Women in traditional garb balanced their heavy loads on their heads. Others carried machetes on their way home from work.

The drive was made worse by the simple fact that Darren Johnson and I had spent the previous night on a red-eye flight from Tijuana to Oaxaca. Joey Fallon dropped me and Darren’s families off at the Tijuana airport at 10 in the evening.

Israel and Daniel waiting to go through immigration at the TJ airport.

Our flight departed Tijuana at 2 a.m. and arrived in Oaxaca, considered one of Mexico’s most traditional and beautiful capital cities, at 8 a.m. After picking up our small rental cars, we made our way southwest to the Pacific.

Josh, 14, was the first to vomit. Darren notified us via walkie-talkie that he had to stop. After a stretch, I found a slight turnoff on the wrong side of the highway next to a tree-covered deep ravine and halted. Darren followed.

As soon as my sons Israel and Daniel exited our Chevy, Israel projectile vomited.

Everyone gets sick on the Oaxaca to Huatulco highway.

Three hours later, after descending from the pine trees into thick coastal rainforest, we found Huatulco. After purchasing supplies and groceries, we finally reached our destination for the next two weeks, a brightly covered beach house tucked away on a remote cove protected by rocky headlands on each side.

The point down the beach.

The surf was sideshore and about 4-5 feet. Daren, Josh and my two sons claimed the thumping beachbreak peaks in the middle of the cove. I walked down and made a stab at the hollow peaks breaking off the point.

We were all reminded of how the crunching power of the surf in southern Mexico.

The waves pitched quickly and unforgivably.

The next morning the boys woke at dawn to patrol the point, and eventually joined a group of groms from the nearby village.

Israel practiced his Spanish. The local groms were pleased to share hoots when someone inevitably scored a barrel.

When the wind turned offshore in the afternoon the surf picked up considerably and the boys enjoyed another round of hollow zippers.

The next morning it was even bigger. The boys were the first ones out, and I could see them pull into a few choice barrels as I walked down the beach.

The sets were overhead and powerful. I cautiously dropped in on a few shoulders.

The boys charged.

“Josh got a stand up barrel,” Israel yelled.

Darren, a goofy-foot, paddled out. Fit and trim at 45, Darren still surfs like a teenager.

As a set approached, I scrambled to get outside. I caught the biggest wave, managed to make the late drop, raced down the line, straightened out in the soup, then got hammered in the whitewater.

We all came in. It was time to hit Barra.

The groms at Barra.

Barra de la Cruz is considered one of the best places in the world for waves. A sand bottom point that winds down the beach in perfect cylinders, Barra is the subject of countless surf films and has even served as the location of a Rip Curl Pro Search surf contest.

These barrels have become a magnet for surfers worldwide.

A set at Barra.

After a short drive, I parked the car and the boys jumped out to check the surf.

The waves were perfect and the lineup was crowded. The boys grabbed their gear and raced down the beach eager to sample a few of the waves they day-dreamed about for years.

The long drive down the never-ending highway was worth it.

Me on a fun one.

Fighting Mega Projects in Guerrero

When we arrived in Zihuatanejo a few weeks,  we learned about plans by FONATUR, Mexico’s tourism development agency to build a new mega-tourism project on top of the Barra de Potosi mangrove wetland and coastal area. Here is the video of our press conference denouncing the project.

Baja Travel Update: My Interview in Surfline

# 53           Los Cabos 3559

Image by Carlos Villamayor via Flickr

Surfline published this interview with me, Sean Collins and Gary Linden

(who had the Green Lantern surfshop in Imperial Beach when I was a kid)

on tips for staying safe in Baja. I’ve just included my interview:

The tragic and ongoing Narco-war South of the Border has many potential visiting surfers on edge, unsure whether to make the trek south — and if so, how to minimize chances of ending up in a dangerous situation. With this in mind, Surfline asked three frequent and longtime Mexico travelers for advice — on when to go, where to go, and how to stay safe. Many of the suggestions are the same as they’ve been since the ’50s. Some are new. All are worth a quick read if you’re thinking about a trip. 

Note: this is NOT an exhaustive list on avoiding the perils and pitfalls of travel to Baja. (Nor does it even begin to bring up the issues involved in travel to Mainland Mexico.) It is three very well-qualified surfers’ perspectives. For those serious and concerned, there are a series of useful related links at the bottom of this feature. For those who have stories and/or advice, please leave them in the comments below. –Marcus Sanders

Baja surfing

Image by Dom Edwards via Flickr

Serge Dedina is the Executive Director of WiLDCOAST, an organization that works in both California and Mexico to conserve coastal and marine ecosystems. He is the author of the new book, Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias. He has been traveling throughout Baja California and in Mexico since 1972. Here are his thoughts:

The security situation has improved significantly since 2007 when a string of robberies and assaults against surfers and a Baja 1000 race crew resulted in most surfers abandoning the idea of traveling to Baja. Over the past three years, the Mexican government spent a lot of time and resources making the highway in Northern Baja safer and overall things are much better than they were. Southern Baja, along with Oaxaca, is considered one of the safest areas in Mexico.

Baja surfing - Larry

Image by Dom Edwards via Flickr

Overall, the level of crime has decreased in Baja. Really, most of the violence and problems are concentrated in Tijuana. Don’t travel through there at night. I travel to Ensenada a lot to surf San Miguel and visit the WiLDCOAST office there and haven’t had any problems or talked to anyone who has had problems recently.

The risk is greatest for surfers who believe that Baja California is like it used to be and they don’t need to take any precautions when traveling there. Bummer is, that Baja has become just like any other area in the developing world where there are problems with crime. Being clueless in Baja is no longer an option. But if surfers are careful and avoid hanging out in areas like Tijuana, most likely they’re going to have a great time South of the Border.

Baja surf

Image by Dom Edwards via Flickr

Camping anywhere in Northern Baja should be done in established camping areas or surf spots where you are not alone and potentially a target for criminals. The increase in the use of crystal meth in Northern Baja, especially anywhere in the area of San Quintin and Colonet, means that there is a greater chance of having problems if you are camping on an isolated part of the coast. South of El Rosario things are generally fine. I spend a lot of time camping and surfing the most isolated part of the coast between Guerrero Negro and El Rosario and haven’t had a single problem. Last summer I took my kids on a 2,970 mile round trip tour of Baja and hit most of the peninsula’s great surf spots. Everyone was super friendly and helpful, we didn’t have any problems at all, and caught some great waves.

Baja surf

Image by Dom Edwards via Flickr

But Baja is back in a big way and surfers need to show that we care about Baja and demonstrate that our tourism dollars are an important source of revenues for Mexico. The more we show that surfing has a positive impact on the economy in Baja and the rest of Mexico, the easier it is for organizations like WiLDCOAST to convince Mexican authorities to conserve coastal areas that have great waves. Surfers have a lot to contribute to Mexico. We have made great friendships, have influenced the development of surfing in Mexico, and have had a positive impact on communities such as San Juanico, Punta Abreojos, Todos Santos, Puerto Escondito, Saladita, Sayulita and the East Cape.

“The risk is greatest for surfers who believe that Baja California is like it used to be and they don’t need to take any precautions when traveling there.”
–Serge Dedina, executive director, WiLDCOAST
The road runs the entire length of the Baja Ca...

Image via Wikipedia

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USEFUL LINKS:

How safe is Mexico? Data on U.S. citizen deaths from the U.S. State Dept — Comprehensive feature by Fodors, posted March 11, 2011.

Is Mexico safe for Spring Break? — USA Today travel section, posted March 9th, 2011.

US State Department Mexico Travel Warning — Updated September 2010

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LOCAL RESOURCES

Baja Crime Hotline: 866-201-5060 — To report a crime or if you need help.

Green Angels
The Green Angels are similar to the AAA in the U.S. The Green Angels are a government paid bilingual crew that patrol the toll roads throughout Mexico every day in green trucks, carrying tools and spare parts, looking for motorists in trouble. The Angeles Verdes will provide mechanical assistance, first aid, basic supplies, and towing. The services they provide are FREE of charge unless your vehicle needs parts or fuel. If for some reason you need assistance call “060” (Mexico’s version of 911) or pull to the side of the road and lift your hood, this will signal the Green Angels that you need assistance or contact them Toll Free 24 hours seven days a week at:
Baja California Highways Emergency Toll Free Numbers:
* 01 800 990 3900: Tijuana – Ensenada & El Hongo – La Rumorosa Toll Roads
* 01 800 888 0911: Tijuana – Tecate Toll Road

US EMBASSY LOCATION:
The U.S. Embassy is located in Mexico City at Paseo de la Reforma 305, Colonia Cuauhtemoc; telephone from the United States: 011-52-55-5080-2000; telephone within Mexico City: 5080-2000; telephone long distance within Mexico 01-55-5080-2000. You may contact the Embassy by e-mail or visit the Embassy website.

In addition to the Embassy, there are several United States consulates and consular agencies located throughout Mexico, listed below.

CONSULATES:
Guadalajara: Progreso 175, Col. Americana; telephone (52) (333) 268-2100.
Tijuana: Avenida Tapachula 96, Col. Hipodromo; telephone (52) (664) 622-7400.

CONSULAR AGENCIES:
Acapulco: Hotel Continental Emporio, Costera Miguel Aleman 121 – Local 14; telephone (52)(744) 484-0300 or (52)(744) 469-0556.
Cabo San Lucas: Blvd. Marina Local C-4, Plaza Nautica, Col. Centro; telephone (52) (624) 143-3566.
Cancun: Plaza Caracol Two, Second Level, No. 320-323, Boulevard Kukulkan, Km. 8.5, Zona Hotelera; telephone (52)(998) 883-0272.
Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo: Hotel Fontan, Blvd. Ixtapa; telephone (52)(755) 553-2100.
Mazatlan: Hotel Playa Mazatlán,Playa Gaviotas #202, Zona Dorada; telephone (52) (669) 916-5889.
Oaxaca: Macedonio Alcala No. 407, Interior 20; telephone (52) (951) 514-3054 (52) or (951) 516-2853.
Piedras Negras: Abasolo 211, Local #3, Col. Centro; telephone (52) (878) 782-5586 or (878) 782-8664.
Playa del Carmen: The Palapa, Calle 1 Sur, between Avenida 15 and Avenida 20; telephone (52)(984) 873-0303.
Puerto Vallarta: Paseo de Los Cocoteros #85 Sur, Paradise Plaza – Local L-7, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit C.P.; telephone (52)(322) 222-0069.
Reynosa: Calle Monterrey #390, Esq. Sinaloa, Col. Rodríguez; telephone: (52)(899) 923-9331

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Blue Ocean Tour in Southern Baja

 

From April 2-7 I will be touring the Cape Region of Baja California to show the Blue Ocean Film Festival “Blue on Tour” ocean documentaries and give talks on my book Wild Sea.

APRIL  2nd:  San Jose Organic Farmers Market, 10am-2:00pm

APRIL 2nd:  TBD

APRIL 3rd:  Los Barriles Art Festival, Hotel Palmas De Cortez Los Barriles

APRIL 3rd: Vinorama Country Club, East Cape, 6pm

APRIL 4th: DREAMS Spa and Resort, @ 6:00pm

APRIL 6th: Sculpture Francisco Merino Galeria @ 6:30pm

APRIL 7th: La Esquina, Todos Santos @ 7:00pm

When I am there I look forward to seeing old friends, making new friends, and surfing the crystal clear blue water of the East Cape and Todos Santos–two of my favorite places in Baja.

 

Surfing Guerrero

In between what were very long days in the Mexican state of Guerrero last week during my Wild Sea/Blue on Tour trip, Ben McCue and I managed to snag a few waves along what is a very undersurfed region of Mexico. Thanks to Pato, Cat, Lainie, Mike and Kristy for being such great surf hosts. And to Ben for being such a great conservation and surfing colleague.

 

We scored 3-5' fun waves at Playa Bonfil just south of Acapulco. This was our last morning and the only morning we surfed there (the day before was probably better but we had to leave our hotel very early for a TV interview). Acapulco is the largest coastal city in Mexico and allegedly has a large surfing population of surfers and only one other guy was out. Mainland beachbreaks have a special quality--hollow, crisp with lots of power--that you just don't find anywhere else. Photo: Ben McCue.

 

Ben and I pulled into the first available parking/beach access at Playa Bonfil. We parked in front a palapa that was also a sea turtle conservation camp and found these two WILDCOAST stickers pegged to their sign (the Santo sticker is ours).

Saladita. When it is bigger this is a fun wave for me. When it is smaller it is a Malibu style longboard wave or the perfect place for a fish or a mini-Simmons. This besides 1st point at Scorpion Bay and San Blas is about the best beginners wave on the Mexico coast

Pato, an activist from Michoacan now working in Saladita on agricultural and communty development ripping it up at a rivermouth we surfed one day. Pato is a super dedicated surfer/activist and a great guy to surf with. Photo: Cat Slatinskly

Pato gets another one. Pato and I surfed this spot with just a few people out. Reminded me of the Sloughs shorebreak when it is good. Photo: Cat Slatinskly

Me on my 6'6" Novak quad--this board worked great everywhere. Cobblestone rivermouth breaks are my favorite type of wave--they are so playful and versatile. Lefts and rights. My first mainland Mexico trip was back in 1982 at a rivermouth break further north up the coast. Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

Kristy Murphy of Siren Surf Adventures on a 5'10" Novak mini-Simmon's hybrid. Kristy is a former Women's Lonbboarding World Champion and she rips. She spends most of the winter in this area. Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

Here's Ben McCue working on his power snaps. Ben grew up in Santa Cruz and was like a little kid in a candy store on these left points. Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

Pato head a really nice power style, typical among Mexican surfers used to surfing good waves by themselves (his style reminded me of Ismael Arce of Punta Abreojos). The surf was about 3-5' with some 6' sets that came through later in the day. Photo: Cat Slatinskly.

Kristy setting up for a big cutback. Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

Ben going right. Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

When we left, the surf was picking up and the lineup was almost empty. Classic mainland! Photo: Cat Slatinsky.

Wild Sea on Tour in Guerrero, Mexico

Last week, I toured the southern Mexico state of Guerrero as part of the Blue Ocean Film Festival “Blue on Tour” and my Wild Sea book tour. Ben McCue accompanied me and Sergio Flores and Natalia Parra of WiLDCOAST. Natalia and Sergio are our Southern Mexico Pacific coordinators. We gave talks, press conferences and showed ocean related films in Acapulco, Zihuatanejo, Troncones and Saladita.

On our second to last day we met activists attempting to stop the Mexican Tourism Agency, FONATUR, from building a new mega-resort and cruise ship terminal at Barra de Potosi, a stunningly beautiful mangrove lagoon, beach and headland where leatherback sea turtles nest and humpbacks can be found offshore. Of course the local fishing community of 600 residents at Barra are adamantly opposed to the project and have barely been consulted about it, even thought FONATUR received a concession to build there.

A special thanks to Sergio and Natalia, Cat and Kristy of Siren Surf Adventures, Fortaleza Lounge and Theater of Acapulco, Lourdes of Lourdes Bungalows in Saladita, the Instituto Tecnologico de la Costa Grande, Pato, Roberto of Roberto’s Bistro, and Mike and Lainie Johnstone.

 

Ben McCue in Acapulco talking to an estimated crowd of over 200. Our presentation went over very well.

WiLDCOAST'S Natalia Parra talks to the Acapulco press about the plight of sea turtles in Guerrero.

A local restaurant owner talks to the crowd about the importance of coastal protection.

At Saladita I was lucky to meet Alan Weisbecker, author of "In Search of Captain Zero."

Lourdes, who hosted our presentation at Saladita for the Mexican and American communities there. Lourdes is a surfer and a pioneer in Mexico in surfing tourism.

My talk at Saladita. More than 60 people were in attendance. I couldn't think of a nicer place to give a talk--on a beachfront palapa, watching the sun set over a "reverse Malibu" point break.

Ben, Lourdes, Cat Slatinskly, me, Pato, and Kritsty Murphy. Cat and Kristy of Siren Surf Adventures from my hometown of Imperial Beach organized the events in Saladita and Troncones and hosted us there. Pato is a local activist.

Before the event in Troncones at Roberto's Bistro, Roberto arranged the release of olive ridley sea turtles. He manages a sea turtle nesting beach camp there too.

Children releasing sea turtles.

Roberto and his local sea turtle conservation team. These kids were so passionate about saving sea turtles and protecting the environment.

Ben and me with activists from Barra de Potosi who are opposed to the proposal by FONATUR to build a new mega-resort there.

My Wild Sea and BlueOcean Film Festival Tour of Mexico

I’ll be in Acapulco, Zihuatenejo, Troncones and Saladita this week in Guerrero, Mexico to host the Blue on Tour: Blue Ocean Film Festival in Mexico and talk about my book Wild Sea. I hope to be tweeting and blogging all week about our adventures (depending on web access).
Ocean Film Festival presented by WiLDCOAST, La Fortaleza Lounge and Guardianes del Mar.
Medium_image

Book presentation of “WiLD SEA: ECO WARS AND SURF STORIES FROM THE COAST OF THE CALIFORNIAS” by Serge Dedina, co-founder of WiLDCOAST/COSTASALVAjE.

Where: La Fortaleza Lounge, Acapulco’s Zocalo, in front of the Cathedral.

When: Tuesday, March 15th, 2011 at 2:00 PM

Additional Mexico tour dates:

MARCH 16: Zihuatenejo, TBD

MARCH 17: Saladita, Lourdes Bungalows @ 7pm

MARCH 19: Troncones, Roberto’s Bistro, @ 7pm

A-Frames and Ice Cream Headaches

My Imperial Beach Patch column of March 9th.

Like most of you I haven’t been able to keep track of the the non-stop weekend rain storms followed by Santa Ana conditions with good clean surf.

IB in the winter. Photo: Rob Hurlbut, Theworldisraw.com

“After such a great January and first half of February, the rest of 2011 thus far wasn’t quite so epic,” said Wildcoaster, IB surfer, and Matuse team member Zach Plopper. “Nonetheless, on Tuesday, the south side of the pier finally lit up providing tube time and ice-cream headaches all around.”

I dawn patrolled with the groms on Tuesday morning at 5:50. Alex Yepis soon followed. I scored a few hollow rights and a cool barrel. Dave Thomas was of course ripping. I caught a wave in at about 7:30. It was cold and I was cold. Later I watched Zach and Kyle Knox rip it up when the tide got higher and the offshore wind cleaned it up.

By the way check out Zach’s cool new video with Matuse family members Chris Del Moro and Luke Rife ripping it up in North County.

Despite the odd conditions, IB locals are keeping fit and preparing for the OAKLEY Surf Shop Team Challenge on Friday March 11th at Seaside Reef in Solana Beach.

“I have been training for the Challenge,” said Sean Malabanan. “I will represent The SurfHut and surf with Sean Fowler, Matt Field, Keith McCloskey who will represent our hometown shop.”

On Tuesday Sean and Matt Field were getting familiar with Seaside.  Friday’s event is the Southwest Regional Qualifier, winning team to compete at H.B. for $10,000 purse.

“Wish us luck,” said Sean.

Luckily a few surfers are traveling and meeting up with their IB bretheren around the globe. “Mercedes and I had a wonderful time on the North Shore last month visiting IBer’s Kim and Lynn Dodds at their Sunset Beach home,” recounted Jeff. “They are the most incredible hosts. The surfing highlight of our trip was a go-out at Leftovers with Terry Gillard Kim, A.J. Hubbard, Javier Mata, and Kristyan Stjerne. We spent another week on Kauai at Abram and Jenine’s coffee farm in Kona, helping out with coffee production from picking to roasting. I caught some classic overhead waves at Lymans, a great left in Kailua.”

Terry Gillard, Kim Dodds and Jeff Knox on the North Shore. Photo: Jeff Knox

When you stop by Katy’s Café ask Katy about her epic trip to surf the secret spots of Guerrero, Mexico with Cat and Kristy of Siren Surf Adventures.

“I had one of the best days  in my life surfing a left until I couldn’t surf anymore,” said Katy. “I saw whales, watched sea turtles swim under me, and even saw a shark. The wildlife was abundant, and the water was about 90 degrees in the shallows.”

Ben McCue and I will be hosted by Cat Slatinsky and Kristy Murphy next week as we tour the coast of Guerrero with the WiLDCOAST team that is based out of Acapulco. Lots of swell is on the way and according to Cat, “The surf is firing right now.”

I can’t wait to surf and hang out with two of my favorite and most stoked and positive IB locals. Cat and Kristy never seem to tire of doing good things and connecting people to look on the bright side of life.

I’ll be at Coronado’s Bay Books on Thursday March 10th from 6:30-8:00 PM talking about my book, Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias. Hope to see you there.

And thanks to all the IB locals and good friends who lent their support at my mother’s wonderful and laughter filled memorial service at the Dempsey Center last Sunday.

See you in the water.

The Sewage Pipe They Tried to Hide

Paloma Aguirre of Wildcoast went to Playas de Tijuana and filmed this:

The day after we contacted authorities and the media, work crews from Tijuana started fixing the pipe. It spewed up to 31 MGD since Dec. 23rd.

Sewage Scandal on the Border

On Tuesday morning (January 18) I detected a horrible stench at the south end of Seacoast Drive in Imperial Beach. I was in my wetsuit and ready to surf.

The stench has a peculiar odor that I associate with sewage spills at Playas de Tijuana.

So I contacted Paloma Aguirre of Wildcoast and asked her to investigate.

Here is what resulted from her work:

Massive sewage spill fouls Imperial Beach

By Sandra Dibble, UNION-TRIBUNE

Mike Lee, UNION-TRIBUNE

Originally published January 18, 2011 at 3:06 p.m., updated January 18, 2011 at 8:44 p.m.

 

Sewage spill

An estimated 1.3 million gallons a day of sewage are flowing into the ocean just south of the international border, in what will rank among the largest single incidents to affect San Diego County in the past decade.

The ongoing leak adds a potent pollutant to coastal waters that currents commonly push north into the United States, where they mix with contaminated flow from the Tijuana River, which has lead to beach closures in South County for the past month.

Estimates of the spill size vary greatly — from more than 30 million gallons by environmentalists to just a few million gallons by wastewater officials in Mexico. Either way, the situation provides a vivid reminder that despite numerous upgrades to the sewage system in Tijuana, it remains a chronic environmental and human health problem with roots going back more than 70 years.

Baja California’s top health authority on Tuesday closed the beaches near the leak at Playas de Tijuana as a precautionary measure. Surfers in South San Diego County said they were concerned about getting sick from the tainted water.

The break was about one mile south of the border in a pipe linked to a pump station that lifts sewage to the Punta Bandera treatment plant. The state’s health department said a pipe ruptured when the ground gave way after December’s rainstorms.

A central question is when the leak started. Baja wastewater officials said Tuesday the major problems started last weekend and they acted as quickly as possible to a situation that started small and blew up without warning.

Environmentalists in Mexico said major flows began before Christmas. They and their counterparts in the United States questioned whether Mexico acted fast enough to address the break and issue warnings.

“This is pretty serious and demonstrates a breakdown in communication” between Mexican and U.S. officials, said Serge Dedina, head of the environmental group Wildcoast in Imperial Beach. “This is precisely an issue we have been trying to deal with — just getting basic notifications on sewage spills in Tijuana. Authorities have placed thousands of people at risk.”

Officials initially believed the problem was an overflow that typically occurs during rainstorms when sewage and stormwater mix in overloaded pipes, said Agustin Rojas, spokesman for the CESPT, the acronym of the state public service commission of Tijuana.

He said the scope of the issue was not initially apparent because it involved an underground sinkhole that formed around Dec. 29 but did not immediately damage the 30-inch pipe.

“We believe it began to have problems, but the water wasn’t flowing to the ocean yet,” Rojas said.

On Sunday, he said, “We had not detected the magnitude of the problem. … It wasn’t until Monday.”

He said it would take another couple of days to stop the flow. The repairs involve replacing a 250-foot portion of the collector pipe that’s buried 15 feet below ground.

“We’ve got crews working long-hour shifts. It’s not an easy job, but they are committed to the task.”

Margarita Diaz, head of Probea, a Playas de Tijuana-based environmental organization, said the problems date back to Dec. 23.

“The collector was damaged, the ground collapsed, and it folded, and plugged it up. This caused the sewage to flow north toward the manholes. As it could not go to the pump station, it flowed through the drains.”

Diaz said the issue of the sewage overflows reached her office at the beginning of January, when local residents called and complained. When she called the CESPT, she said the common response was that the engineer was on vacation.

The Playas beach was closed Tuesday afternoon. “But this should have happened a long time ago,” she said. “It should have happened immediately, from the moment that the spill was detected. They were three weeks late.”

Mark McPherson, chief of land and water quality for San Diego County’s environmental health agency, said Tuesday afternoon that he had received no official notice of the incident. In this case, he said an alert would not have made a major difference because the Tijuana River is still flowing with millions of gallons a day of sewage-tainted water and the county has maintained beach closures for weeks in the South Bay because of that.

Dedina at Wildcoast said the problems at Playas de Tijuana likely are contributing to the mess caused by the Tijuana River.

“The stench at the south end of IB this morning was overpowering,” he said.

Conditions were worse south of the international border.

“I have been watching and smelling a stream of untreated sewage run down the street next to my house in Playas de Tijuana and to the ocean in a constant flow,” said resident Scott S. Peters. “The authorities have simply removed the manhole covers on my street and have been letting the sewage flow like a river since the storm a few weeks ago.”

Wastewater has been a major source of tension along the border since the early 1900s because Tijuana’s sewage system has not kept up with growth. Raw sewage flows into the Tijuana River whenever it rains. Agencies on both sides of the border have made big strides to cut down the pollution by building treatment plants and other facilities.

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