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Surfrider Announces Plans To Sue Federal Agency Over Sewage Spills

A danger sign at Imperial Beach is shown in this photo, March. 2, 2018.

Photo by Erik Anderson

Above: A danger sign at Imperial Beach is shown in this photo, March. 2, 2018.

The Surfrider Foundation environmental advocacy group announced Tuesday it also plans to sue a federal agency in response to years of sewage flow from the Tijuana River into U.S. waterways.

The nonprofit submitted a 60-day notice of intent to sue the United States Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission. The action came one day after state Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board did the same.

The notices allege the commission, which is tasked with seeking binational solutions to land issues, hasn't done enough to stop millions of gallons of raw sewage from flowing into the United States over the last several decades.

Commission spokeswoman Lori Kuczmanski said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

RELATED: Becerra, Water Quality Board File Intent To Sue Federal Agency Over Cross-Border Sewage Flow

Sewage spills from the Tijuana River have rankled government, environmental and recreational stakeholders for decades.

The Surfrider Foundation began a sewage cleanup campaign in 2008, but it ramped up activities after as much as 230 million gallons of waste spilled into the Pacific Ocean over a 17-day span in February 2017.

The group decided to file the notice to sue after workgroups, meetings, public education and cleanups yielded nothing substantial, Surfrider Foundation Policy Coordinator Gabriela Torres said.

"Because our activities have failed over the last year to result in any sort of tangible solution, we decided the next step is to file the intent to sue to pressure the commission and the federal government to remedy this problem," she said. "There has been a lead up to this. We take litigation seriously and only use it as a last resort, so we felt there was no other option."

Surfrider's planned suit against the commission claims repeated violations of the Clean Water Act, and violations of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit it holds for the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant near the border.

Sewage spills have sickened people and caused beach closures as far north as Coronado.

Surfrider's notice cites the negative recreational and economic impact waste flows have had on South Bay cities and neighborhoods, including Imperial Beach and Coronado.

It also notes the health threat to Border Patrol and Navy personnel who train in coastal waters. In 2010, former Border Patrol agent Josh Willey contracted a flesh-eating bacterial infection while training at the Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado.

The Port of San Diego and cities of Chula Vista and Imperial Beach filed their own lawsuit against the commission in March.

The foundation could drop plans to file its lawsuit if the commission commits to undertaking projects to mitigate sewage flows, Torres said. In the meantime, foundation officials said they hope increased legal action will spur quicker progress.

"Right now there are a lot of interested parties trying to pressure the commission, and we feel that us coming together with our own unique angles, but a unified voice, will lead us to find a solution," Torres said.

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