South Bay Cities, Port of San Diego Sue Feds Over Tijuana Sewage Spill

IMPERIAL BEACH (CNS) - The Port of San Diego and two South Bay cities today filed a lawsuit against the federal government to force action to stop the what it calls the ``almost continuous'' flow of sewage from the Tijuana River into the United States.

Chula Vista, Imperial Beach and the port filed the suit against the federal agency in charge of U.S.-Mexico water treaties and the private operator of a treatment plant that serves Tijuana for allegedly violating two U.S. laws that protect water quality and public health.

Local officials say they're dissatisfied with the federal response regarding the tens of missions of gallons of sewage that have fouled South Bay Communities, forced the closure of beaches and sickened people.

``The ongoing sewage spills causing beach closures and making people sick in Imperial Beach are an environmental and human disaster and it's getting worse, with 28 beach closures since Jan. 1. We are filing this lawsuit as a last resort,'' Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina said. ``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.''

The plaintiffs last fall filed an intent to sue the agency -- the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission -- and the company, Veolia Water North America, for allegedly violating the Clean Water Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Authorities on the U.S. side of the border frequently are forced to close beaches as far north as the Hotel del Coronado following storms, when sewage is driven out of Baja and into American waters.

The Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge and Border Field State Park are currently closed for swimming following rain this week. County environmental health officials say that the access road to Friendship Park may even be contaminated with Mexican sewage.

A particularly extreme example of the problem came last March after a wastewater collector in Tijuana collapsed and sewage was diverted into the Tijuana and Alamar rivers during repair work.

The breakdown resulted in the flow of at least 28 million gallons of raw sewage from Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, causing a widespread stench and elevated levels of E. coli bacteria in the Tijuana River Valley.

Veolia operates the South Bay International Water Treatment Plant in San Ysidro that treats water from Mexico.

The plaintiffs say that Veolia and the IBWC rejected recommendations to upgrade the plant and related infrastructure that would solve the problem.

``Solutions in the Tijuana River Valley are a matter of relatively straightforward engineering: a few critical infrastructural upgrades to collect and treat wastewater flows and to manage sediment and other solid waste in the Valley,'' the complaint reads.

In a statement, Veolia officials said they continue to support a collaborative approach to find a solution to the problem.

``Veolia has diligently and faithfully operated the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant and its related canyon collectors on behalf of the International Boundary and Water Commission in full compliance with its permit,'' the company said. ``The plant and related infrastructure are simply not designed to prevent or treat all wastewater discharges originating in Mexico that flow into San Diego County. Some of this waste never reaches the collection system and, as an operator, we are limited by the realities of the system's design capability and our contract duties.''

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