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San Diego port, partners sue federal agency seeking halt of U.S.-Mexico border sewage spills

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Staff Writer | March 3, 2018
The San Diego Unified Port District and City of Chula Vista are joining the City of Imperial Beach in suing a federal agency to halt the flow of toxic waste and sewage from the Tijuana River to the Pacific Ocean.
San Diego port
America   The Port of San Diego and City of Chula Vista
On March 2, 2018, the Port of San Diego and City of Chula Vista joined with the City of Imperial Beach in filing a lawsuit against the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) and Veolia Water North America (Veolia) over their significant, longstanding violations of two U.S. laws designed to protect water quality and public health, the Clean Water Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, in their operation of the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment plant.

“The ongoing sewage spills causing beach closures and making people sick in Imperial Beach are an environmental and human disaster and it’s getting worse, with 28 beach closures since Jan. 1. We are filing this lawsuit as a last resort and we welcome the involvement of the City of Chula Vista and Port of San Diego,” said Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina.

“We encourage other communities and interested parties to join us in finding a permanent solution to what might be the worst ongoing environmental violations in the United States.”

The announcement was made by Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina and the Imperial Beach City Council, joined by Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas and Port of San Diego Commissioner Dan Malcolm, at the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve Visitor Center in Imperial Beach.

The communities have been working for years to convince the IBWC and Veolia to correct these violations and take swift action to stem, collect and treat water pollution flowing through their facilities in the Tijuana River Valley.

“We are communities connected by our coast, and water quality affects all of us who enjoy our region’s beaches, piers and waterways,” said Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas. “Sewage spills are a threat not only to the environment, but to public health and the tourism industry.”

“This is a regional issue and that’s why we are addressing it with a unified strategy. All residents of San Diego County are affected by the Tijuana River pollution because it damages our shared coastal assets,” said Port of San Diego Commissioner Dan Malcolm.

“After careful consideration, the Port of San Diego has decided to take this issue to the courts to force federal action. The only way the Port can address this problem is through the federal government because we do not oversee the source of the spills or the area where the federal sewage treatment plant is located.”

In September 2017, the State Lands Commission, chaired by Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, issued a declaration of interest in these efforts.

On March 2, 2018, Lt. Governor Newsom released a statement in support of the litigation.

"The IBWC's failure to address pollution and protect environmental and public health in the border region is unacceptable. California' pristine coastline is protected by some of the most visionary policies and steadfast advocates to ensure the persistence of vibrant ecosystems, thriving ports, and public access for all,” Newsom said.

“I applaud the efforts of the Port San of San Diego and the Cities of Imperial Beach and Chula Vista to uphold these values in their action against the IBWC for its culpability in the all-too-frequent pollution events in San Diego."

The almost continuous flow of toxic waste and sewage into the Tijuana River and, from there, the Pacific Ocean is a significant threat to public health, two state parks, a national wildlife refuge and the health and vitality of the impacted communities. There have been 376 sewage spills documented since 2015.