City of San Diego Joins State Lawsuit Against USIBWC Over Sewage, Sediment and Trash Issues

By on January 31, 2019

San Diego’s City Council voted unanimously in closed session earlier this week to join California’s lawsuit against the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC) over the contamination flowing in the Tijuana River Valley through the Tijuana River Estuary and out to the Pacific Ocean while fouling the beaches north of the spill site. The City Council’s vote was unanimously in closed session though Councilmember Chris Cate was absent.

For years, sewage, sediment and trash from the Tijuana River Valley have affected local beaches and coastal waters, prompting frustration and public health concerns. In October 2017, San Diego City Attorney Mara W. Elliott served notice of the City’s intention to sue. Following the City Council’s recent decision, the City Attorney’s Office will now begin working with the State Attorney General and the Regional Water Quality Control Board to prepare for a trial date of April 13, 2020.

The lawsuit against the USIBWC was filed in September 2018 on behalf of the people of the State of California, by and through the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Diego Region, and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. The State Lands Commission signed on as a party to the lawsuit in December 2018.

“San Diego’s natural environment is what makes our region so special and we’re going to keep fighting to preserve it,” San Diego Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer said. “We’ve made this a priority in meetings with federal agencies in both the U.S. and Mexico, and now we must force the government’s hand to ensure it takes action. This gives us a new tool in the battle against sewage and trash that flows across the border and into our waterways. I thank the City Council, Councilmember (Vivian) Moreno and City Attorney Elliott for their work on this issue.”

Elected in 2018 to represent San Diego’s Eighth City Council District, Councilmember Moreno in December requested her fellow councilmembers to hear the options for joining a lawsuit on the Tijuana River Valley. Her request was in response to the most recent sewage spill that began last month and still continues to release millions of gallons of sewage each day.

“One of the first actions I took as a Councilmember was to request that the City join the lawsuit,” Councilmember Moreno said. “The discharge of sewage has been a threat to the health and safety of our residents for far too long. We must hold our federal government accountable and also send a strong message that the South Bay will not be a dumping ground.”

Although the IBWC operates pumps in the Tijuana River and capture basins in several canyons to the west of the river, poor management and operation of its wastewater treatment facilities have prompted a public outcry over their frustrations and public health concerns.

“The pollution in the Tijuana River Valley is a disgrace, and I’m proud of this Mayor and City Council for fighting back against the federal government’s persistent disregard for our community’s health,” City Attorney Elliott said. “Joining the Regional Water Quality Control Board lawsuit represents San Diego’s best chance at a comprehensive solution to this troubling problem.”