San Diego

San Diego City Council Votes to Join Lawsuit Over Tijuana Sewage Seepage

"We’ve spent a lot of time on the diplomatic front over the last several years and now is the time for action," Mayor Faulconer said ahead of the vote

The San Diego City Council voted Tuesday to join a California lawsuit against the International Boundary Water Commission (IBWC) over sewage flow from Tijuana, Mexico into the United States. 

The unanimous vote adds the city of San Diego to a lawsuit brought on by Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the San Diego Regional Water Quality Board against the U.S. sector of the IBWC over claims the agency is not adequately managing sewage-contaminated flows across the border.

The lawsuit alleges millions of gallons of waste, including untreated sewage, trash, pesticides and heavy metals have been discharged from the IBWC's treatment facilities in violation of the Clean Water Act. 

Shorelines of Imperial Beach and the Tijuana Estuary are often closed to the public after spills on the Mexican side of the border and also due to contaminated runoff following rainfall. The lawsuit claimed beaches in Imperial Beach were closed around 150 days a year due to contaminated runoff. 

Closures sometimes extend as far north as Silver Strand State Beach and Coronado.

The lawsuit is asking the court to force the IBWC to comply with the Clean Water Act and the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.

In a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, federal attorneys 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 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," attorneys said. 

The cities of Imperial Beach and Chula Vista, the Port of San Diego and a local environmental organization, Surfrider Foundation, have all expressed their intent to file federal lawsuits against the IBWC. 

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said it is possible some of these lawsuits will be consolidated since each municipality and agency have the same goal: to protect the natural habitat in the South Bay and make conditions liveable for residents. 

"I think you’re going to see a lot of movement in 2019 as some of the infrastructure ideas come to fruition, but most importantly we need the funding," Faulconer said. 

Ahead of the council vote in closed session, Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Councilmember Vivian Moreno spoke publicly to urge the council to vote to join the lawsuit. 

The mayor's message to the council: "Let’s join this lawsuit and help fix this problem once and for all," he said at a press conference along the Tijuana River Estuary, which has had a warning from the Department of Environmental Health since Nov. 29 due to contaminated runoff.

"We’ve spent a lot of time on the diplomatic front over the last several years and now is the time for action."

The Tijuana River crosses the U.S.-Mexico border just west of the Otay Mesa Port of Entry and travels northwest, through the Tijuana River Estuary and into the Pacific Ocean south of Imperial Beach.

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