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Sewage From Mexico Spill Flows North Into California Waters

December 13, 2018 1:19 p.m.

Sewage From Mexico Spill Flows North Into California Waters


Serge Dedina, mayor, city of Imperial Beach

Related Story: Sewage From Mexico Spill Flows North Into California Waters


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

This is KPBS midday edition. I'm Jade Hindmon. The city of Imperial Beach lawsuit against the federal government over Clean Water Act violations. Well move forward Serge Didinga is mayor of Imperial Beach and is part of a group suing the federal government to get infrastructure put in place to solve the ongoing cross-border contamination problem.

So we have a very strong case. We have a very impartial and fair judge.

It's been really moving and inspiring for me to be in court and working to win the decision by US Judge Jeffrey Miller is timely this week as a new pipe brought cheer in Tijuana sending millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Pacific Ocean. Closing San Diego beaches. I spoke with Mayor Dina about the most recent spill and what happens next in the legal battle to contain cross-border sewage flows.

It's six or seven million gallons a day. The only good news here is that they told us 24 hours after it happened instead of three weeks after it happened. So within 24 hours the Federal Government and the Mexican government are making plans to sort of contain the spill. So yesterday they turned on the pump station in the river valley in the river channel in Mexico to suck some of that water out of the river. But we were notified that even then we have stopped a four and a half million gallons of raw sewage in the river which means you know we had closures from Iby to cornrow Coronado's back open.

But you know it looks like our beaches will be closed through Christmas so that's kind of a big giant huge bummer.

And now could this spill be larger than the one that happened in February of 2017 when hundreds of millions of gallons of raw sewage contaminated though.

It's kind of similar in the sense that it may be a little bit less per day. That was just a lot worse because again they let it go for three weeks without telling everybody and then literally no one answered the phone even though everybody was freaking out. So I think that was a little higher per day. It went on a lot longer but this still isn't contained. And you know again it still isn't contained and it's happening because no one did their job. The United States federal government didn't do their job and protect public health and public safety including of their own Navy SEALs and their own border patrol agents so they're happy to sacrifice the health and safety of their own national security personnel and military personnel because they're too cheap to protect public health.

The Mexican government is literally doing nothing. And so I'll be meeting with President Obrador as representative in Baja California on Monday. Senator Jaime Bania to talk about this. We've already met with him on this issue has been brought up with the president of Mexico. And so hopefully he can get a new start but it's not a good new start to a new year for us.

Now this time around you said you were notified pretty early on about this bill. Were there any other agencies that were notified.

Well no look the Mexican government 24 hours after it happened notified the International Boundary and Water Commission who then sent an e-mail. No one was really notified. It wasn't as if the spill happened and then authorities in Tijuana had just sort of notified everyone immediately there should have been a press release that should have been a phone call hey heads up let's get work on this together and you know frankly we're a small city we have 20000 people but our public works guys would have been there in a second to help them out.

And I think that's our concern is when they need help they don't get it. They don't ask for it. And so hopefully they're working on the issue now but everyone needs to work a lot harder. And one of the things I'm concerned about is the missing piece of this in terms of our lawsuit. We have the state of California Chula Vista the port Surfrider Foundation the city of Sandy was missing here and we need the city of San Diego to be part of that lawsuit. Steve Sandigo has been helping but they need to do more.

We'll be reaching out to the San Diego City Council members because have a new council to really say hey we need you guys to step up to the plate because kids in San Ysidro and south San Diego all of the southern part of the county are getting sick and being exposed to this toxic sewage. And it's not fair that we're shouldering the burden for that.

You've said you don't necessarily believe the pipe ruptured on Monday after last week's storm. Why is that.

Well you know it rained. We had a cataclysmic two point two inches of rain. Shouldn't be cataclysmic but this was predictable. The EPA had said that this pipe was could be subject to breaking. And so whether or not it happened three days after it ran or it happened right when it rained it was a result of the rain. You know and so the tragedy here is I talked to the EPA last night and they said well we had already said that this pipe was subject to be could be could be broken.

And so it happened. We all knew it would happen. They watched it happen and then it happened and they did nothing. And so that's why I'm just obviously pretty unhappy right now because everyone sits on their butt and basically does nothing and then talks about having meetings meetings don't cut it or federal court hearings or cutting it. The judge now has dismissed two motions by the Federal Government to dismiss the case. We have a really strong case. Justice is on our side. The law is on our side. And frankly if anyone ever goes down in the Tijuana Valley as I was on Tuesday you'll see the piles of garbage a river of toxic sewage and basically just garbage and sewage.

As far as the eye can see it's it's like the apocalypse of pollution and the reality is everyone's really comfortable doing very little. And we've all got to do a lot more especially the city of San Diego it's costing the city of San Diego two to three million dollars a year to clean up that valley. So anyone in San Diego who is concerned about cuts to public services and the deteriorating condition of Mission Bay needs to ask the city of San Diego why are they getting all that money gets sucked into the river valley when the Trump administration has said we're getting zero money to help clean it up.

What do you hope comes of this lawsuit.

Well we're going to win our lawsuits. I don't know if they're going do any more dismissals or try to do any more sense to dismiss this is what the federal government said. They said that they actually don't have any jurisdiction over the United States Mexico border that they have sovereign immunity. So it's not really their job over the summer we had a meeting with the Border Patrol in the city of San Diego the county of San Diego Surfrider Foundation the City of Imperial Beach and the federal government told us was that it's actually not their job that we need to raise the money ourselves.

And in fact they encourage us to talk to local nonprofits like I guess the boys and girls club and the Girl Scouts to help us raise money to fix the problem. So obviously that's unacceptable and and more importantly I think that's why I'm excited about the new Congress. We've already reached out obviously to Scott Peterson and I'm Juan Vargas and Senator Feinstein's office. They're very encouraging about all of them work our entire delegation working with other folks across the border to get that money that we need to really fix this problem. And so what happens next.

Next we'll go to trial. I would urge anyone in the federal government listening to settle this lawsuit because it's not going to be a pretty case when we present the over 300 spills in the last three years alone. It's a never ending tsunami of toxic waste sewage and garbage that's again impacting the health of Border Patrol agents and Navy SEALs.

Not to say the least the residents of San Diego County I've been speaking with surge did Dina mayor of Imperial Beach Mayor Dina thanks for joining us. Thanks a lot.