City of San Diego to Join State Lawsuit Against Federal Government Over Tijuana Sewage Flow

The San Diego City Council, in closed session on Tuesday, January 29, voted 8 to 0 (with councilmember Chris Cate absent) to join a lawsuit, People of the State of California vs the International Boundary and Water Commission. The lawsuit was brought by the Regional Board of the California Water Quality Board to enforce the federal water pollution control act related to repeated sewage discharges from canyon collectors in the Tijuana River Valley. Separately, the City of Imperial Beach, the City of Chula Vista, the Port of San Diego and the Surfrider Foundation have all expressed intent to file lawsuits against the IBWC.

Residents from Imperial Beach and the Coronado Cays, as well as representatives from the San Diego Unified Port District, Surfrider Foundation and Citizens Against Sewage all spoke during public comments prior to the vote. Each spoke about the state of emergency in the river valley and the need to apply pressure to the federal government to come up with a long term solution. They stated that the IBWC has failed to comply with the federal government’s own laws regarding the discharge of industrial sewage, industrial waste, and domestic sewage into the Tijuana River Valley then into the Pacific Ocean where it damages natural resources, threatens health and closes beaches for far too long. These are violations of the clean water act. This regular sewage flow is one of the biggest ongoing water quality issues in the United States. More than one speaker referred to the spill in February 2017 which is estimated to have been over 200 million gallons.

The Department of Environmental Health issues beach closures at the ocean shoreline, and that shoreline is very often closed from the U.S./Mexico border to the north end of the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge. Closures are listed as due to “due to sewage-contaminated runoff from the Tijuana River.”

IBWC has conducted a study to evaluate new infrastructure alternatives in Mexico and the U.S. to determine the feasibility of increasing the capacity to manage the flows in the Tijuana River. The main objective of the study is to reduce the negative impacts on the quality of the waters that reach the Pacific Ocean. This project is being performed by ARCADIS and financed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) through the North American Development Bank (NADB). IBWC’s diagnosis of the existing bypass and pumping system of the Tijuana River is currently 60% complete and it is expected to be completed at the beginning of 2019.


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Originally from upstate New York, Dani Schwartz has lived in Coronado since 1996. She is thrilled to call Coronado home and raise her two children here. In her free time enjoys hitting the gym, reading, and walking her dog around the “island.”Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: