California Preparing to Sue Over Border Sewage Spills

The fence marks the international border at the Pacific Ocean in Tijuana.

SAN DIEGO (CN) — Following the lead of Southern California cities distressed at sewage spills along the border, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Monday gave notice he intends to sue the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission for violating the Clean Water Act.

Joined by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, Becerra submitted a 60-day notice of intent to sue the United States Section of the IBWC, which is responsible for wastewater discharges in the Tijuana River.

The attorney general claims that since 2015 the commission has allowed 12 million gallons of untreated wastewater from the Tijuana River watershed in Mexico to flow into California waters. The wastewater often contains high levels of pesticides, heavy metals and bacteria, in violation of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.

The cities of Imperial Beach and Chula Vista and the San Diego Unified Port District sued the IBWC in March for failing to address “devastating pollution discharges” from the Tijuana River.

A longstanding problem in San Diego’s coastal border region, sewage spills and pollution in the Tijuana River became a topic of national conversation last year when the largest sewage spill ever there polluted the region during unusually heavy winter storms.

Since then, local politicians have been putting pressure on the commission to do something to clean up the pollution.  The Border Patrol launched its own investigation after agents became ill working in polluted areas of the Tijuana River Valley, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

“These polluted flows are a dire threat to both human health and the sensitive wildlife in the estuary and Pacific Ocean near our international border,” San Diego Water Board executive officer David Gibson said.

“Residents of both sides of the border near this waterway and its outfall deserve better and we have an obligation to act.”

The IBWC built collectors to intercept and divert waste to a treatment plant, but they overflow when improperly maintained, allowing hazardous wastes to flow into creeks, streams and other U.S. waterways.

Wetlands are polluted and beaches are closed frequently due to threat of bacteria that cause illness.

Coastal cities in California have imposed 1,600 beach closures in the past decade due to contaminated waters, according to the attorney general’s office.

Meanwhile Tuesday, the Surfrider Foundation, represented by law firm McDermott Will & Emery, also announced it has filed its 60-day intent-to-sue notice with the IBWC for “egregious violations of water quality regulations.”

The Surfrider Foundation has worked on solutions to the pollution problem for a decade including participating in multiple working groups and action networks as well as the IBWC Citizens Forum.

Following the massive sewage spill in February 2017, Surfrider implemented the Blue Water Task Force to run weekly water quality tests at local beaches.

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