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

A danger sign at Imperial Beach is shown in this photo, March. 2, 2018.
Erik Anderson
A danger sign at Imperial Beach is shown in this photo, March. 2, 2018.
Becerra, Water Quality Board File Intent To Sue Federal Agency Over Cross-Border Sewage Flow
Becerra, Water Quality Board File Intent To Sue Federal Agency Over Cross-Border Sewage Flow GUEST: Serge Dedina, mayor, Imperial Beach

Our top story is last year, one S. Bay City cannot the -- came up with the idea of suing for the sewage spills. The state has filed a required 60 day notice before actually suing the government citing violations of the Clean Water Act. It started with the Imperial Beach and that they have all filed lawsuits against the US boundary water commission. It is estimated that 12 million tons of untreated sewage has flowed from Mexico into the US the last three years. Joining me is Imperial Beach mayor. Welcome. >> Thank you for having me. >> Is this notice to file that the state is now a party to, the same as your cities lawsuit? >> I'm not a lawyer, but I think it is similar. Having the Attorney General as well as the San Diego water control way in is a big presence. They are the regulatory agencies in California that regulate stormwater and water pollution. This is a good sign and obviously we need the federal government to the respondent -- to respond. We have to respond to this and we're all moving forward, they are moving backward. We need as much help. >> Has the water control board been active on the sewage spill issue before? >> Yes, they have been the main regulatory agency. They have more of a compliance effort to avoid legal requirements, getting people to clean up a watershed. This did not work, not without their trying and I think the lawsuit is the way they have to go to get international boundaries to comply. >> I want to take a step back and explore this. What is the claim against the US government. The sewage spills originate in Mexico. >> Anytime pollution enters into someone's jurisdiction, that is their responsibility. The US government gets what we call permanent discharge departments to control stormwater on the border. They have basins that control this. Under US law and under their own permits they are required to manage stormwater flows, in this case toxic flow across the United States. At the end of the day, whether happens in Mexico or the US, that toxic waste and sewage enters our waters at the border as well as into the ocean. Someone is responsible for it. Mexico will not clean it up on the US border. If I can make them I would. The US government has to take responsibility under the United States Mexico water treaty. US and Mexico have agreed to deal with this issue and they have accepted responsibility to deal with this issue. We are holding them accountable under law and this is why we have a robust democracy and legal system. Earlier this year they planned to spend several million dollars for the sewage, is this information with the efforts of the IB WC? >> Yes, it is the body that is helping do this, the EPA Congress appropriated money. This is under a water infrastructure and they are working to develop banking agencies in Tijuana. They are meeting and they will figure out how to improve the pump station. Lexical is allocating matching funds for that. They are pushing hard on Mexico and the state, federal and local level to get a triage system to fix the sewage system. This is all good news. I just want them to move faster. >> Has there been any lessening of sewage seeping into the South Bay because of these efforts? >> We were having a spill every other day and it seems like there have been fewer spills recently. The IB WC did something smart and put Derek, kind of like a barrier down in front of the Tijuana River. This will stop a lot of the smaller flows that were continuing to reach our beaches into the river valley. This was a smart thing. We do not always have to spend a lot of money to stop these flows. It was good they finally figured out that they could move around there. This is one of the things we are looking at, there are many small things that we can do to fix the system. They're looking at the minimal things to look at the flows from stopping the beaches. He said IB WC is pushing back on Imperial beaches? Do you think this is why the state decided to get involved? >> Yes, it is clear that the US government has no interest in helping us. President Trump was here, Mike pence with your and the vice president , in theory they could have solved this problem, they chose not to. The IB WC and Attorney General have made it very clear that they have no responsibility to do so. This leaves me with the question of if the United States government says they are not responsible, who is? >> It sure is not Imperial Beach. Thankfully, the attorney general. And other foundations are filing lawsuits as well. We will continue pushing as hard as we can. >> I've been speaking with Imperial each mayor. Thank you.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board Monday submitted a 60-day notice of intent to sue a federal agency regarding several years of sewage flow from the Tijuana River into U.S. waterways.

In the notice, Becerra and the board allege the United States Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission, which is tasked with seeking binational solutions to issues, has let more than 12 million gallons of untreated sewage flow into the U.S. since 2015.

RELATED: Surfrider Announces Plans To Sue Federal Agency Over Sewage Spills


"For far too long, uncontrolled sewage spills have polluted and impaired the Tijuana River Valley and Pacific Ocean. This must stop," Becerra said. "It's our duty to protect the public health and natural resources of the people of California. We will do what is necessary to get those responsible to clean up this mess."

The notice claims the commission violated the Clean Water Act by not adequately addressing wastewater flows from the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant located near the border.

Sewage flow has sickened people and led to beach closures as far north as Coronado, in the process irritating a wide variety of government, environmental and recreational stakeholders.

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

"These polluted flows are a dire threat to both human health and the sensitive wildlife in the estuary and Pacific Ocean near our international border," water board Executive Officer David Gibson said. "Residents of both sides of the border near this waterway and its outfall deserve better and we have an obligation to act."


Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, praised Monday's action by Bacerra and the water board.

"The coastal communities of San Diego County depend on clean, healthy watersheds and beaches — recreationally, economically and for our rich environmental and biological tapestry. In recent decades, the federal government has turned a blind eye toward the sewage, trash and debris flowing across the border from Mexico," she said.

RELATED: Rep. Susan Davis Calls For Navy Assessment Of Cross-Border Sewage Spills

The intent to sue comes as the Port of San Diego and cities of Chula Vista and Imperial Beach forge ahead with their own lawsuit alleging the federal government is violating two U.S. laws that protect water quality and public health. The suit, filed in March, also targets the private operator of a treatment plant that serves Tijuana.