Skip to main content

Feds Seek Dismissal Of San Diego Cross-Border Sewage Lawsuit

Downtown San Diego federal building on Aug. 13, 2018.

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Above: Downtown San Diego federal building on Aug. 13, 2018.


Feds Seek Dismissal Of San Diego Cross-Border Sewage Lawsuit
GUEST:

Erik Anderson, environment reporter, KPBS News

A federal judge in San Diego heard arguments Monday challenging the lawsuit designed to get the federal government to end renegade cross-border sewage flows.

Imperial Beach, Chula Vista and the Port of San Diego sued the federal government in March as a last ditch effort to stop persistent sewage flows that originate in Mexico and end up fouling U.S. waters.

Department of Justice officials asked Judge Jeffery Miller to dismiss the case.

The DOJ argues The International Boundary and Water Commission did not create the pollution, so the federal agency and the civilian contractor that manages the International Sewage Plant near the border are not responsible for the problem.

RELATED: Congressional Delegation Presents Unified Voice On Border Sewage Spills

“The law is very clear from the Supreme Court on down. So you do not have to be the original source of pollution to be liable under our laws. And you don’t even have to look any farther than why does the IBWC exist at all. It exists to capture and treat transboundary contamination and they’re not doing it,” said Mark Edling, attorney for the Port, Imperial Beach and Chula Vista.

Judge Miller said he plans to visit the border to assess the situation before he issues a decision on the government request for dismissal. A decision on the DOJ motion could come relatively soon thereafter.

It was an emotional morning for Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina who leaned forward listening intently during the hearing in the federal courtroom.

Dedina pushed for the legal action after a winter storm in 2017 washed more than 200 million gallons of raw sewage through the Tijuana River Estuary on the U.S. side of the border. The stench from the spill was so intense some Imperial Beach residents felt they could not leave their homes.

Dedina said the court hearing took him back to times when sewage-tainted water forced him to seek medical care for his children.

“It’s a very emotional morning for me. Vivid memories of taking my kids to the emergency room,” Dedina said as he choked back tears.

RELATED: Feds Facing Lawsuit Over Cross-Border Sewage Spills In San Diego

“We have little kids here. Our kids are getting sick. Our lifeguards are getting sick. And sorry, it has been a long road and a really tough fight and it meant a lot to me that members of our community were here to support that,” Dedina said.

This lawsuit is not the only legal action the federal government faces. Surfrider Foundation has filed a similar lawsuit arguing the fouled waters keep swimmers from enjoying ocean waves.

The Regional Water Quality Control Board, the agency responsible for monitoring and cleaning up pollution in local waterways and the California Attorney General have also filed 60-day notices that they intend to sue.

Federal judge hears Department of Justice Request to dismiss renegade lawsuit aimed at stopping transborder sewage spills.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.