Attorney General Becerra and San Diego Water Board Ready to File Suit over Tijuana River Sewage

By on May 22, 2018
Discharging raw sewage and other pollutants into Compton Creek

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board (SDWB) have submitted a 60-Day Notice of Intent to Sue the United States Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (US Commission) for not adequately managing transboundary flows at the U.S.-Mexico border. Becerra and the water board allege that the US Commission has allowed more than 12-million gallons of wastewater flowing from the Tijuana River Watershed in Mexico into California to go untreated from 2015 to the present.

“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,” said David Gibson, San Diego Water Board’s executive officer. “Residents of both sides of the border near this waterway and its outfall deserve better and we have an obligation to act. The Regional Board has the same expectations of federal agencies that it has for any agency that it regulates. The US Commission must comply with the Clean Water Act and its NPDES permit and make the necessary infrastructure improvements to its facilities to prevent contaminated flows from entering the United States.”

The polluted water flow from Mexico to the U.S. is a violation of the Clean Water Act and the US Commission’s permit under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) issued by the San Diego Water Board. Excessive levels of heavy metals, pesticides and bacteria are often found in the wastewater and the flows have impacted human health and the environment. The situation has prompted the US Border Patrol to launch its own investigation for the protection of its agents working in the region.

“For far too long, uncontrolled sewage spills have polluted and impaired the Tijuana River Valley and Pacific Ocean. This must stop,” said California Attorney General Becerra. “It’s our duty to protect the public health and natural resources of the people of California. We will do what is necessary to get those responsible to clean up this mess.”

Although the US Commission has a series of canyon collectors designed which are designed to intercept and divert waste for treatment at the Treatment Plant they can overflow as a result of improper operation and maintenance, untreated and often hazardous waste – including sewage, trash, sediment, and severely polluted runoff – can end up in creeks, streams and other water bodies in the United States. This can result in polluted wetlands and mandatory closures of local beaches due to the threat of bacteria that causes illness in those who are exposed to the waters. The contaminated wastewater has resulted in 1,600 beach closures in California’s coastal cities in the last decade and can result in a significant loss of revenue from tourists who come to California for a beach experience.

“We need the US Commission to do their part. It’s past time,” said Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-District 80-San Diego). “Our residents deserve better than the constant spillage of sewage that ends up polluting our community parks, beaches and coast.”

“My constituents have dealt with this large-scale environmental disaster for far too long. Since the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission seems uninterested in carrying out its legal duties to treat the wastewater flowing into the United States, we must hold them accountable,” said Assemblymember Todd Gloria.  (D-District 78-San Diego). “It is time for the pollution in the Tijuana River Valley to be stopped once and for all and for all stakeholders to work together to restore the quality-of-life for the region.”