IMPERIAL BEACH, Calif. - The Port of San Diego and two South Bay cities Friday filed a lawsuit against the federal government to force action to stop the "almost continuous" flow of sewage from the Tijuana River into the U.S.
The first step came in the fall when Chula Vista, Imperial Beach and the Port of San Diego were among the entities that filed an intent to sue the agency in charge of U.S.-Mexico water treaties over what they say is federal inaction regarding the tens of millions of gallons of sewage that has fouled South Bay communities.
The groups announced they were taking legal action against the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission.
"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," said Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina. "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."
Authorities on the U.S. side of the border are frequently 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."