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Regional partners taking action to halt U.S.-Mexico border sewage spills

Staff Writer |
The San Diego Unified Port District and City of Chula Vista are joining the City of Imperial Beach in demanding immediate federal action to halt the flow of toxic waste and sewage from the Tijuana River to the Pacific Ocean.

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The State Lands Commission has issued a declaration of interest in the local efforts to combat pollution.

The Port of San Diego and City of Chula joined with the City of Imperial Beach in delivering a Notice of Intent to Sue to 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 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. Had they done so, litigation could likely have been avoided.

Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina and the Imperial Beach City Council, who have taken strong leadership positions on these issues, announced the action on September 28, 2017, joined by Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas and Port of San Diego Commissioner Dan Malcolm, at the Tijuana Estuary Observation Deck in Imperial Beach.

“We are heartened that a regional coalition is building, demanding real solutions to this environmental disaster. Together we are stronger, and we welcome the involvement of the City of Chula Vista and Port of San Diego,” said Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina.

“Enough is enough. It is our duty to our residents and to the environment to take action. 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.”

“I appreciate Mayor Dedina’s leadership on the issue of water quality, which affects all of us who enjoy our region’s beaches, piers and waterways,” said Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas.

“We are talking about 300 sewage spills in less than three years – a threat not only to the environment, but to public health and the tourism industry. We want the IBWC to fix the problem.”

“As a waterfront community that relies heavily on our oceans, all residents of San Diego County are affected by the Tijuana River pollution,” said Port of San Diego Commissioner Dan Malcolm.

“By joining in the Notice of Intent to Sue, the Port of San Diego is championing the need for decisive federal action on this serious problem. 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.”

“Our agents willingly accept the risks of being in law enforcement. What we are no longer willing to accept is the fact that we are working in a sewage and chemical dump,” said Christopher Harris, a border agent in San Diego for 20 years and Legislative & Political Affairs Representative for the National Border Patrol Council Local 1613. He said that 83 incidents of contamination and/or illness have been recorded among local agents in the past four months alone.

“We are pleased to continue our support and involvement with our local government agencies to demand immediate action from the federal government, to protect our agents’ health and safety, and that of everyone in the community.”

The State Lands Commission, chaired by Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, issued a declaration of interest in these efforts. "Pollution in our coastal waters poses an unacceptable risk to human health and the environment, while causing economic losses to communities in South San Diego," said Lt. Governor Newsom.

"I personally applaud these local authorities for holding accountable those who've failed to comply with requirements to treat wastewater and ensure safe water quality. This is a shining example of the role local government plays protecting the health of California's communities and the environment."

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 vitality of the impacted communities.

The ongoing sewage spills from the Tijuana River have been an issue for a very long time, with significant spills in recent years.

More than 300 sewage spills have occurred since 2015.

Too often, massive sewage spills flow right past the IBWC’s sewage treatment plant on the United States side of the border without any treatment before it enters the Pacific Ocean.

Even minor rain events have resulted in major sewage problems and U.S. beach closures.

The IBWC is charged with addressing these issues along the border. Despite repeated requests from local, state, and federal officials to solve the ongoing pollution crisis, meaningful action is still lacking.

This problem can and must be solved in order to protect public health and preserve the invaluable public resources threatened by essentially unimpeded cross border sewage flows.


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