San Diego to join lawsuit over border sewage spills

SAN DIEGO — The city of San Diego plans to join the cities of Chula Vista and Imperial Beach, and the Port of San Diego, in filing a lawsuit over a series of sewage spills in Tijuana that have fouled the water and air in the South Bay area.

The City Council approved joining the pending court action during its closed session meeting Tuesday. The other cities previously announced their intention to file the lawsuit.

“I would like to thank my City Council colleagues for joining me in supporting the efforts to protect and enhance the Tijuana River Valley and the communities in South San Diego,” said Councilman David Alvarez, who represents the area. “I appreciate the diligent work of our city attorney to ensure that this problem receives the attention we deserve from the federal government.”

The council voted to initiate litigation against the International Boundary and Water Commission, and water treatment supplier Veolia North America.

The other two cities and port have already served notice to the commission’s U.S. section, giving it two months to create a plan to reduce or end polluted waters coming into southern San Diego. The commission is responsible for water treaties covering Mexico and this country.

The cities and port can go ahead with their planned lawsuit if they don’t find such a plan acceptable.

A commission spokeswoman said agency officials haven’t received official paperwork regarding a lawsuit, and are conferring with the U.S. Department of Justice on next steps.

Veolia, which operates the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant and five canyon collectors, said it sticks to the highest industry standards and stringent procedures in areas it can control.

“Unfortunately we cannot control other actors nor can we transform legacy designs that are impacted by growing populations and weather,” the company said in a statement. “We look forward to working closely with the IBWC and regulatory officials to ensure the water returned to the environment from the plant continues to meet all regulatory standards as it historically has done. We will fully support efforts to understand cross-border issues that impact collection system design and operation that could enhance its future performance.”

Last month, Reps. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, and Darrell Issa, R-Vista, introduced federal legislation intended to prevent the flooding of sewage, trash and sediment into the area along the U.S.-Mexico border by providing grant funding and developing a coordinated plan to update the area’s infrastructure.

In March, a massive sewage spill in Mexico fouled beaches and the Tijuana River Valley on the U.S. side of the border and created a stench that lasted for several weeks.