The “carcamo” is the holding area for Todos Santos’ sewage, otherwise known in English as a cesspool. We don’t have a treatment plant and rather than pipe the sewage directly into the ocean, there is a large holding area just north of La Cachora where the solids are allowed to settle and the liquids evaporate or filter into the earth. As the town has grown, so has usage of the sewer system (actually only the center of town is connected to the sewer system – outlying areas such as Las Tunas, rely on septic systems.) The “carcamo” has been dangerously full for many months now, sometimes with liquid seeping through the dunes which hold it back from the ocean. On these occasions, bulldozers have been used to reinforce the dunes.
On May 6 or 7, the dune gave way and the “carcamo” flowed across the beach and into the ocean. My friend and fellow photographer Alvaro Colindres documented the breach on May 8 and sent me some photos. I personally explored the area on May 9, taking my own photos. I have walked the beach north to beond Calle Internacional in Las Tunas and there is evidence the pollution has reached at least that far. The beach has dark stains and plants that were growing in the “carcamo” are strewn on the beach. Unfortunately, there are oyster beds all along this area. I am certain that the water will be clear within a short period of time, perhaps a week or two, but the oyster beds may be polluted for quite some time to come. I am not knowledgeable enough to know for sure, but I will not be eating local oysters for the forseeable future, nor will I eat any local seafood for a couple of weeks minimum. It is also not known how far north and south the pollution extends, either on the beaches or in the water.
This article was anonymously sent to El Calendario. I have edited it for grammer and clarity only. As far as I know it is factually correct. If something is in error, I am not aware of it, but I don’t claim to have the final word.
Some time between 9 AM, May 6 and the afternoon of May 7, 2008 the Todos Santos sewage evaporation pond(aka the “carcamo”) broke it’s boundaries and overflowed on to the beach and in to the Pacific ocean. For approximately forty years raw, untreated sewage of the town has been pumped into the “carcamo”. The “carcamo” covers an area approximately 100 yards by 50 yards and is approximately nine feet deep. The entire contents of this space have emptied onto the beach so that an area on the beach approximately 400 yards by 50 yards is contaminated by the plants and black water which were previously contained in the pond. The contaminants which flowed into the ocean have washed up on the shore as far south as the La Poza estuary and as far north as the El Posito boca. At present the sewage is still being pumped into the pond space and is flowing directly on to the beach. (NOTE: the breach has been plugged since this was written and raw sewage is no longer flowing directly onto the beach.)
This event has created a potential health hazard. Following hurricane Julietta which struck some seven years ago there was an outbreak of hepatitis at the beach of Los Cerritos. This and other potential health hazards may now face the community of Todos Santos. Local lore maintains that the oyster beds from the adjacent waters as far south as La Poza have been contaminated from the seepage from the “carcamo”. Experts may be able to judge how long the beach will remain contaminated, but common sense indicates that people and animals should stay away from this area. And, the incidence of mosquitoes and flies may increase as a result of this event.
How did this come about? The “carcamo” was built some forty years ago when the town was a fraction of its present size and the area surrounding the pond was dedicated to agriculture. Approximately four years ago residential construction commenced in the immediate area and simultaneously members of the community became concerned about the rising water level in the pond. As a result this group of concerned citizens commenced a program of keeping track of the rising water level and informed the officials of the risk. Despite the growing risk, the town increased the number of homes connected to the sewer. Before the event of this week, the pond has overflowed three times, and each time was more serious than the previous one. To accommodate the increasing amount of sewage the town responded to each overflow by digging sand from the frontal dunes, thereby creating large holes, and building narrow, higher dikes with the material. The building of the narrow dikes undermined the strength and mass of the dunes which had been holding the “carcamo” in place. What has happened here demonstrates the same type of risk which has been created by building houses on the dunes. (For eight years concerned citizens fought off developers’ efforts to build on the dunes, but recently officials in La Paz have approved dunes construction and several houses have been built and more are to follow.)
What should be learned from this event? Officials in La Paz have been aware of the problem for at least three years and have been saying that a water treatment plant was soon to be built, but nothing happened. The size of the town far exceeds the infrastructure, yet government shows no recognition of this fact and allows development to continue unrestricted. Everyday hundreds of tourists come to the town thereby exacerbating the problem. Maybe this event will cause the officials to wake up and act responsibly! We shall see.
Here are Alvaro’s photos from May 8:
And here are my photos from the following morning:
These are the filtering plants that grew in the cesspool.
Here you can see where the breach has been filled in with bulldozed sand.
Normally this beach is just sand.