Surf! Water contact closures lifted at Imperial Beach, Silver Strand – NBC 7 San Diego

It finally smells like summer in Imperial Beach and Coronado.

School is out, and just in time for the solstice, water contact closures at Imperial Beach and Silver Strand State Beach have been lifted by the County of Health and Environmental Quality Department. San Diego.

At Imperial Beach, the water was full of swimmers, surfers, curious children surveying the shallow waves, and passers-by getting their feet wet. Most people were excited to see the water reopened, but some weren’t ready to jump in yet.

“I wouldn’t go,” said Rene Geleana, who has lived in the area on and off for 17 years with his family. “Honestly, I chose to go to other beaches.”

The water contact closure had been in effect at Imperial Beach since May 17, according to a county spokesperson. While it’s put a damper on eager visitors wanting to see the San Diego area at its best, it’s also weighed on the city’s lifeguards.

“We want clean, fun water, like everyone else,” said captain Jason Lindquist, a 20-year veteran of the agency. “We want to be busy doing warnings and rescues and being in the water. That’s why people wanted this job.

Lindquist shared that lifeguards’ daily duties have changed since the water contact closure began, and that’s not helping their ability to retain staff and attract new hires.

“People don’t really want to work here, do they? You can’t do your job,” Lindquist said. “Your work is no longer going to save people in the water, your work now becomes a regulator and warnings all day.”

He added that there was also a lack of cooperation from some members of the community, with lifeguards being the most affected. Some people walk past the closure signs, remove them, or refuse to come out of the water, creating a hazard for rescuers.

“If we have to go in and rescue someone, it puts the rescuer at risk for a workers’ compensation situation and exposes them,” Lindquist said.

Water contact closure occurs when bacteria levels in a certain frequently tested area exceed the state limit and can cause illness. Previously, tests took days to reveal water quality results, but now the county has a new same-day testing method.

“The old test often failed to detect the presence of sewage markers,” said Vice President Nora Vargas, county supervisor for the district that includes Imperial Beach. “It sounds a bit complex, but it’s what’s been in our water for years.”

Vargas acknowledged that the problem of contaminated water near the Tijuana River Valley has been an ongoing problem for decades and that she is trying to address it.

“What I don’t want to do is I don’t want it to be, ‘do our businesses and our tourism need to be strong and able to survive in competition with the safety and well-being of our communities?'” Vargas said. “It shouldn’t be one or the other, so we’re going to find some common ground so we can have both.”

While some swimmers were hesitant to dive in Tuesday, a University of San Diego ocean expert said he understands people wanting to be safe, but the decision to turn the water on and off is not taken lightly.

“With the review they have and the way they are careful to do the analysis, if they open today they are confident the numbers are safe,” said Michel Boudrias, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences and Ocean Sciences.

As for Silver Strand, it has been closed less often than Imperial Beach since the beginning of May. Silver Strand’s longest streak in May was 11 days from May 17-28, according to a county spokesperson. The county met with relevant jurisdictions, including Imperial Beach, on Tuesday and said in a statement sent to NBC 7: “County and Imperial Beach officials expressed their mutual goals of protecting public health and working to opening of the beaches for the community to enjoy. The county will continue to engage with other stakeholders because inclusive community engagement is an important part of everything we do. »

The statement also said, in part, “The introduction of the new water testing method to our region was a collaborative effort with the county (DEHQ and public health departments), the US EPA , the CDPH, the Southern California Coastal Waters Research Project, and the State Water Resources Control Commission. The ddPCR test method was researched and implemented based on community feedback for faster and more accurate water quality information. It took nearly a decade of testing, pilots, research, state law changes, and approvals to deliver to the community.

The shoreline south of Imperial Beach to the U.S.-Mexico border remains closed, according to the county’s water quality dashboard. This closure has been effective since December 2021.

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