SAN DIEGO (CN) – Southern California cities, tired of their beaches and waterways being polluted by sewage entering U.S. waters from Tijuana, Mexico, sued the international agency tasked with upholding the Clean Water Act on Friday.
The cities of Imperial Beach and Chula Vista, along with the San Diego Unified Port District sued the International Boundary & Water Commission –United States Section and Veolia Water North America West for repeatedly failing to address “devastating pollution discharges” from the Tijuana River.
The water commission is tasked with “addressing trans-boundary issues arising out of agreements between the United States and Mexico” while Veolia Water contracts with the water commission to operate and maintain the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The San Diego cities are asking for the water commission and its contractor to be forced to comply with the Clean Water Act and Resource Conservation and Control Act.
Sewage spills and other pollution entering U.S. waterways in San Diego from Mexico have been a problem for decades, but the issue was somewhat mitigated when Mexico improved its infrastructure. The City of San Diego has been declaring a continued state of emergency since 1993 due to the raw sewage entering its waterways.
During a particularly wet winter last year, the largest sewage spill in the county’s history occurred due to a break in Tijuana’s sewer infrastructure. In the months since the spill, San Diego officials and leaders, including Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina, have been calling for the ongoing sewage spill crisis to be fixed.
Dedina, an avid surfer, claimed to have been sickened himself by a sewage spill last fall.
The beaches in Imperial Beach were closed for more than half the year in 2015 and over 160 days in 2016 and 2017 due to pollution contamination, according to the lawsuit.
“Human sewage, enormous volumes of sediment, industrial wastes, pesticides, massive amounts of trash, and a host of other nefarious pollutants from defendants’ facilities barrage the Tijuana River, its Estuary, the Pacific Ocean, and the Imperial Beach beachfront, contaminating those natural resources, stigmatizing the beachfront as unclean and unsafe, and sickening members of the public who use the Tijuana River Valley, the beach, and the ocean for recreation,” the cities claim.
In their 77-page lawsuit filed Friday in the Southern District of California, the cities claim they’ve been in talks with the water commission for years to address the pollution problem and that after they filed their intent to sue last September, the Water Board called a meeting asking the water commission to declare its commitment to construct several “priority projects” to resolve the pollution problem.
The plaintiffs claim the water commission has known for years the projects were needed, including a pollution interception facility connected to the existing wastewater treatment plant and enhanced water quality monitoring.
“These projects would substantially prevent, if not eliminate, illegal discharges of pollutants and solid and/or hazardous wastes from defendants’ facilities,” according to the complaint.
Since the meeting held last December, the cities claim more than 17 new pollution “events” have occurred in the Tijuana River Valley, with 3 million gallons of wastewater flowing into the waterways. The pollution “events” have caused beach closures and public health advisories in Imperial Beach.
In a response on March 1, the water commission “refused to accept responsibility for and fund, let alone build, any of these projects” prompting the Southern California cities and Port District to file suit.
A spokeswoman for the water commission directed a request for comment to the Department of Justice which did not return a call for comment by time of publication.