by Courtesy of County of San Diego Parks & Recreation

A settlement was reached for the long-running cross sewage litigation valley filed by several agencies and municipalities across the San Diego region to mitigate raw sewage and toxic chemicals from the Tijuana River Valley. 

A settlement agreement was reached with the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC), which allegedly violated the Clean water act for several years, and allegedly allowed polluted water, trash, and sediment to flow into the United States for several years. 

The USIBWC was the sole defendant in three separate lawsuits whose plaintiffs included the cities of San Diego, Imperial Beach, and Chula Vista, as well as the Port of San Diego, California San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, California State Lands Commission, and Surfrider Foundation.

“This settlement, and the collaborative approach underpinning it, will prevent damage to California's public lands and help us achieve one of our core mandates — providing public access to California's beautiful beaches and the Pacific Ocean,'' State Controller and State Lands Commission Chair Betty Yee said.

Under the settlement, the USIBWC, which owns and supervises the operation and maintenance of the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant in the Tijuana River Valley, agreed to “diligently mitigate” water that flows across the border and regularly share information with stakeholders on its progress for seven years.

Implementation of the settlement is pending the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Infrastructure Solution. The EPA plan already includes $300 million in committed federal funding aimed to reduce the amount of polluted water in U.S Sections. 
Any violation of the terms means the entities can revive their lawsuits and file new lawsuits for any new alleged violations.

The USIBWC has agreed to several terms under the settlement, including proposing the construction of another temporary sediment berm to intercept transboundary flows, expanding public outreach regarding its efforts to divert and remedy wastewater flows, and assessing the feasibility of sediment and trash removal in the Tijuana River Flood Control Channel.

“This is great news for Chula Vista, South County, and the entire San Diego region,” said Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas. “This litigation was a critical jumpstart, and we’re looking forward to cooperating with local, state and federal officials, to further address a challenging environmental problem that crosses international boundaries. In addition to political will, we needed funding, and I appreciate the leadership at the federal level to provide $300 million to address the water pollution in our Tijuana River Watershed. With the case behind us, our focus now turns to working with our partners to ensure that federal pollution control infrastructure is constructed with the utmost expedience.”

The Tijuana River carries untreated wastewater, trash, and sediment from Mexico across the border into the United States. The polluted discharge into the Pacific Ocean from Tijuana’s wastewater treatment plant is carried northward during the summer, impacting beaches in southern San Diego County. 

Congress enacted the United States -Mexico-Canada  Agreement Implementation Act (USMCA) in January 2020, which appropriated $300 million in federal funds to reduce pollution flowing through the U.S. Sections of the Tijuana River Valley. 

“Settling this litigation is truly a watershed moment and an important step in the long struggle to control and remediate pollution in the Tijuana River Valley and Estuary,” said Dave Gibson, executive officer for the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board. “These waters are among the most impaired in California and have been our top priority since 2009. The agreement will help mitigate the impacts of this pollution on sensitive ecosystems and nearby communities while providing the foundation for effective and sustainable bi-national management of sewage and other waste flows in the Tijuana River watershed.”

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