San Diego votes to join lawsuit to stop Tijuana River contamination

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SAN DIEGO — The San Diego City Council voted Tuesday to join a lawsuit against the U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission, alleging violations of the Clean Water Act stemming from sewage flows in the Tijuana River.

The lawsuit, filed in September by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, alleges the commission has continuously put the health and safety of San Diego County residents at risk by improper and negligent management of flows of sewage, chemical waste and plastic pollution into the Tijuana River.

The San Diego County chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and a coalition including the cities of Imperial Beach and Chula Vista and the Port of San Diego have filed similar suits over the last year.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and District 8 City Councilwoman Vivian Moreno, whose district includes San Ysidro and the Tijuana River Valley, held a news conference Monday to urge the council to join the lawsuit.

Faulconer suggested that outreach efforts to the U.S. and Mexican governments have not spurred meaningful change to the pollution of the river, leaving litigation as the next best option.

“We’ve made this a priority in meetings with federal agencies in both the U.S. and Mexico, and now we must force the government’s hand to ensure it takes action,” Faulconer said. “This gives us a new tool in the battle against sewage and trash that flows across the border and into our waterways.”

Recent rainfall in San Diego County has repeatedly exacerbated the pollution from the continuous sewage flow into the river. Multiple winter storms forced the county’s Department of Environmental Health to close beach access in Imperial Beach, Silver Strand and Coronado multiple times in November, December and earlier this month. Water contact closures remain in effect along the shorelines at Border Field State Park and the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge.

“The discharge of sewage has been a threat to the health and safety of our residents for far too long,” Moreno said. “We must hold our federal government accountable and also send a strong message that the South Bay will not be a dumping ground.”

The council voted 8-0 in favor of joining the suit, with City Councilman Chris Cate absent. City Attorney Mara Elliott’s office, Becerra’s office and the California Regional Water Quality Control Board plan to work in concert in preparation for the case’s April 13, 2020, trial date.

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