A scene from the documentary "The Big Dump," which was shown Nov. 10 at the Coronado Island Film Festival. Staff photo by Craig Harris.

There was a theater full of new and years-long advocates pushing for solutions and continued awareness related to the Tijuana sewage crisis on Nov. 10.

The Coronado Island Film Festival, in its eighth year, welcomed nationwide and local visitors to the film premiere of “The Big Dump: Our Pacific Ocean in Crisis” at the Coronado Performing Arts Center.

Among the full rows of attendees were more than 70 South Bay teachers and students from Wolf Canyon and Cook elementary schools in Chula Vista with several saying they wanted to learn more about the public health crisis and join a call to action.

Fifth and sixth grade students from Chula Vista were among those in attendance at “The Big Dump” on Nov. 10. Staff photo by Julieta Soto.

“They can make a difference,” said writer and producer Brett Davis, a Chula Vista resident. “A lot of these kids are trying to figure out what they are going to do. This is something that they can take with them years later and when they feel like there’s injustice being done—which there is against a lot of minorities in the San Ysidro and Imperial Beach area—that they do have a voice. And through their lives if they feel they are not being treated respectively, they can speak up.”

Letter campaign to Newsom, Biden

Davis and Chula Vista Elementary School District Superintendent Eduardo Reyes worked together and arranged for the students to visit and learn. Their next step will be writing Gov. Gavin Newsom and President Joe Biden to request help on the issue, according to Rochelle Carroll, the district’s executive director for curriculum and instruction.

This summer, students from Imperial Beach also wrote the president asking him for assistance to fix the sewage crisis. There have been numerous calls from local and state elected officials for Biden to declare a state of emergency, which would fast track federal construction projects to stem the flow of sewage from Tijuana.

“Chula Vista has the biggest elementary school system in California; they have a lot of voice, and a lot of those kids that are in that school district come everyday from Tijuana,” added Davis.

The district plans to begin writing letters to state and federal offices in the coming weeks, said Carroll.

Emerald Keepers: Keep up the pressure

Emerald Keepers, a local environmental group that sponsored the film, encouraged those in attendance to post yellow warning signs like those commonly seen on the beaches in Coronado and Imperial Beach to show solidarity in the community.

And, attendees were urged to write to congressional leaders to bring more attention to the problem and help secure additional funds that could be used on construction projects to treat the sewage and minimize human waste from flowing into the Pacific Ocean.

We in Coronado are tired of this, we stand with Imperial Beach, we stand for clean water.”

-Emerald Keepers President Amy Steward.

“’The Big Dump’ is an important film because this is something that’s been going on for decades and it’s time to end the sewage issue,” said Emerald Keepers President Amy Steward, “We in Coronado are tired of this, we stand with Imperial Beach, we stand for clean water.”

One Chula Vista student and competitive swimmer Carter Jacob Spotser shared that he learned more about the pollution problem after watching the 38-minute film with classmates.

Carter Jacob Spotser from Chula Vista shares his takeaways about “The Big Dump.” Staff photo by Julieta Soto.

“I learned that the problem is right next to us and that for some reason the American federal government decides to do nothing about it, which I think is absurd,” said Spotser following the showing. “Why wouldn’t we be protecting one of the largest tourist attractions in our state? When you think about it, tourism is a large part of California’s economy, so I feel like the second this came to light, we should have donated more attention to it.”

Spotser said he now plans to move forward with a local junior lifeguard program at alternative sites rather than local beaches in the coming years.

Environmental injustice

“The Big Dump” highlighted how the years-long pollution problem has gotten worse over time and how it has become an environmental injustice that continues to pose health risks for the coastal communities of Imperial Beach and Coronado.

The film featured a series of interviews with elected officials and other community members including local activists, residents, and journalists Craig Harris and Madeline Yang from The Coronado News.

The newspaper earlier this year did a five-part investigative series on the Tijuana sewage crisis and examined the decades of broken promises by U.S. and Mexican leaders to solve a problem that has polluted the ocean and sickened locals, U.S. Border Patrol agents and Navy SEALs.

Following the premiere, Imperial Beach Mayor Paloma Aguirre told The Coronado News that the letter she and San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Nora Vargas sent to Mexico’s president Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Oct. 20 awaits an official response.

“There’s nothing more powerful than the voices of children saying ‘this is my fundamental right to have a clean environment…with a right to grow up happy and healthy.’ And that’s not an option for us right now,” said Aguirre, who was among those interviewed in the film.

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Julieta is a reporter for The Coronado News, covering education, small business and investigating the Tijuana/Coronado sewage issue. She graduated from UC Berkeley where she studied English, Spanish, and Journalism. Apart from reporting, Julieta enjoys reading, traveling, and spending quality time with family and friends.