The Surfrider Foundation held a press conference on February 19 at Coronado South Beach at Avenida del Sol to ask the city of Coronado to join the lawsuit against the federal government over violations of the Clean Water Act. Coincidentally, emphasizing their point, were the yellow “Keep Out, Sewage Contaminated Water” signs posted on the closed beach behind them. Coronado beaches have been closed for 13 days so far this year.
Documented as far back as the 1930s, sewage and other contaminants have flowed through the Tijuana River Valley from Mexico into the Pacific Ocean, causing countless beach closures in Imperial Beach and Coronado. The worst Tijuana sewage spill in over a decade occurred in February 2017, when more than 150 million gallons of raw sewage discharged into the Tijuana River polluting beaches from Rosarito to Coronado. This event helped mobilize the Surfrider Foundation to double their efforts toward finding a solution to this problem.
Gabriela Torres, Surfrider Foundation Policy Coordinator, emphasized that “the conversations need to happen now.” She called on Coronado to join in the sewage lawsuit, “because it’s more beneficial for everyone to be together and then present a united group going to Sacramento to pursue legislative channels. We want to work together on policy efforts.” She pointed out that The Surfrider Foundation has come up with the Shared Stakeholders Solution and is asking Coronado to give input on it.
Bethany Case, Surfrider Foundation member, concerned mother, and an advocate on the Clean Border Water Now Campaign spoke about living in Imperial Beach and the frustration of her husband and daughter and other residents as swimmers and surfers that they can’t always go in the water. “This is affecting the Navy SEALs training and puts them at risk in the water. We can’t ignore this any longer,” she said.
Daron Case, attorney with Citizens Against Sewage and Founder, activist, Coronado Residents Against Poop, pointed out that San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulkner said that the stage is set and it’s time to join the lawsuit. “We are calling for an all-of-the-above approach with a united front.”
Chris Harris, a retired Border Patrol Agent and Union Official spent 23 years as a Border Patrol Agent in Imperial Beach and knows firsthand the environmental nightmare, having suffered chemical burns and rashes, and saw fellow agents suffer as well. “We want a big tent approach, where everyone is welcome to help convince the United States Government to push the Mexican Government into action.”
So far, The Surfrider Foundation, Imperial Beach, Chula Vista, San Diego, The Port of San Diego, and the State of California have joined federal lawsuits over cross-border sewage spills. These organizations hope the Federal Government will work with the Mexican Government to find solutions to pay for infrastructure improvements on both sides of the border to prevent sewage and pollution from reaching our local beaches.
Coronado has taken a diplomatic approach to this crisis. The city has retained Best, Best and Krieger, with law offices in San Diego and Washington DC, to help secure funding for much needed border infrastructure improvements. Mayor Richard Bailey, Councilmember Whitney Benzian and City Manager Blair King have made several trips to Washington DC and have met with key officials, including Congressmen, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Trade Representatives negotiating NAFTA, the Pentagon and the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. The County of San Diego is also working towards a diplomatic approach.
After the press conference, the group headed over to the City Council meeting where they reiterated their plea for Coronado to join the lawsuit during Oral Communication. At the meeting, Andre Monette, lobbyist, said “Litigation is serving a role here and major players in this region are part of it. If Coronado adds its name to the litigation, I don’t know that we get anything out of it. But I will tell you that we will be less able to have open conversations with the executive branch, the EPA, the State Department and the White House.”