After an intense two-hour hearing, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller said he will continue reviewing evidence before ruling on a government motion to dismiss a lawsuit that seeks to compel the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) to halt the flow of millions of gallons of raw sewage from the Tijuana River into the Pacific Ocean.
"It was a very emotional morning for me,” said Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina. “Vivid memories of taking my kids to the emergency room. We have little kids here, you know. Our kids are getting sick."
Dedina was close to tears when he talked with reporters after the hearing.
He was joined outside the courthouse by a handful of South Bay residents who want Judge Miller to hold the IBWC responsible for preventing the sewage discharge.
“And that’s what we’re here for: justice,” Dedina said. “To make sure that our kids and our families don’t have to swim and surf in toxic sewage. That our Border Patrol agents don’t get sick and don’t get chemical burns. That our Navy SEALs can train to defend our national security without getting sick and almost dying.”
“Nobody wants that,” added Mitch McKay, an Imperial Beach resident and member of Citizens Against Sewage. “Everybody wants to have the availability of clean water at the beaches, whether you go to I.B. or Coronado, or Point Loma."
In their motion to dismiss the lawsuit, attorneys for the federal government argued that the IBWC is not responsible for the millions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage that flow into the Pacific Ocean from the Tijuana area.
The government lawyers said the IBWC “...has not violated any environmental law, and, in fact, has done nothing to worsen cross-border pollution. Rather, by constructing and operating a treatment plant in San Diego… IBWC has greatly reduced the problem’s scale.”
The government argues that IBWC does not have “...an open-ended legal obligation to capture and treat all transboundary flows”, and for that and other reasons, Judge Miller should dismiss the lawsuit.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs disagreed. They said the IBWC and other responsible parties must do more to solve the sewage problem.
"They have to stop the pollution,” said attorney Matt Edling. “They have to build appropriate capture ponds, and there should be no more pollution whatsoever, going into the Tijuana River Estuary and the Pacific Ocean."
Judge Miller told the attorneys and spectators that he might take a tour of the river valley area and the holding and treatment plants, to better understand the issues at hand. The judge did not indicate when he will rule on the defendants’ motion for dismissal.
Attorneys for the government were not available for comment after the hearing, but South Bay residents remain optimistic and committed.
“If we have to crawl on broken glass through garbage to fight for this, we will do that,” said Dedina. “We will never rest until we have clean water, and that's why we're here."