California Town Threatens Suit Over Mexican Sewage

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By Amena H. Saiyid

Discharges of sewage, trash, and toxic sludge from Mexico have one California border city threatening to sue a binational agency charged with managing water pollution along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The International Boundary and Water Commission has made “zero” effort to address water pollution from daily unchecked discharges of stormwater, sewage, and trash flowing into the U.S. from Mexico, Serge Dedina, mayor of Imperial Beach, Calif., told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 2.

Imperial Beach is “fed up” with sewage spills and toxic sludge that trucks dump illegally on the Mexican side of a border fence, Dedina said.

The city will inform the commission of a planned suit alleging lack of oversight of the Clean Water Act discharge permit for the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant in San Diego, which is unable to handle the quantity and frequency of sewage flows, Dedina said. The city wants the commission to authorize expansion of the plant’s treatment capacity and to repair stormwater collection devices along the border fence, according to Dedina.

Also, the city wants the commission to direct the North American Development Bank to pay for infrastructure improvements in the Mexican border town of Tijuana, which was responsible for a massive sewage spill in February.

Imperial Beach is asking the cities of San Diego, Port of San Diego, and Coronado, and the county of San Diego to join in its lawsuit, said Dedina, who also heads the environmental nonprofit group Wildcoast.

Commission: Concerns Will Be Addressed

“We are taking concrete steps to address Imperial Beach’s concerns,” Sally Spener, spokeswoman for the International Boundary and Water Commission, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 2.

The commission, which consists of government officials from the U.S. and Mexico, is charged with implementing a 1944 treaty that includes measures to cooperatively improve flood control and water quality in the Tijuana River, which crosses the U.S.-Mexico border before emptying into the Pacific Ocean off Imperial Beach.

Spener said the commission is already expanding the South Bay plant to improve its capacity to carry out secondary treatment, and it plans to monitor Tijuana River’s water quality and install three flow meters along the river on both sides of the border.

Most importantly, Spener said, the commission is close to finalizing plans for a contractor to expand the treatment plant’s pump and diversion system. This system pumps high Tijuana River flows from Mexico and diverts it to the wastewater treatment plant, but during heavy rainfalls the plant has been unable to adequately divert enough sewage-filled waters.

In addition to the lawsuit, Dedina said he’s asked the Department of Homeland Security to fix drainage problems as part of a planned rebuild of the existing border fence.

To contact the reporter on this story: Amena H. Saiyid in Washington at asaiyid@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bna.com

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