Environmental Groups Threaten Lawsuit Against Federal Body Over Tijuana Sewage Crisis: Citizens Seek Accountability for Clean Water Act Violations

SAN DIEGO, CA – Local environmental groups in San Diego are considering legal action against the federal organization responsible for overseeing water treatment infrastructure that contributes to the ongoing sewage crisis in Tijuana. San Diego Coastkeeper and the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation have issued a joint notice of intent to sue the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act and the facility’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Permit.

In their 24-page letter, the nonprofits state that they will proceed with the lawsuit if the IBWC fails to address these violations within the next 60 days. The Clean Water Act mandates that no pollutants can be discharged into water in the United States without a permit. Despite holding a permit, the IBWC is accused of non-compliance by the environmental groups.

Commissioner Maria-Elena Giner has publicly acknowledged that the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant is not in compliance with its permit. The IBWC, however, asserts that it is working to rectify the situation. The commission faces financial constraints due to the overwhelming cost of maintaining and repairing wastewater infrastructure, which exceeds its budget.

Efforts to address the Tijuana sewage crisis have been ongoing. Federal funding was allocated for repairs in the 2023 budget, but this has proven insufficient to fully resolve the issue. Activists and lawmakers continue to advocate for increased funding from Congress.

The letter of intent submitted by San Diego Coastkeeper and CERF outlines several chronic violations committed by the IBWC, including exceeding volume limitations, transboundary flow violations, failure to self-monitor, and lack of public access to required scientific studies. The letter claims that the IBWC has identified over 500 effluent limitation violations, including discharges of polychlorinated biphenyls at levels 22,122% over the permitted limit.

The environmental groups also criticize the IBWC for its failure to report self-monitoring data and participate in the Coastal Remote Sensing Study. These omissions, they argue, mislead the public by downplaying the number of violations that have occurred.

The IBWC has yet to respond to requests for comment on the matter. San Diego Coastkeeper and CERF have expressed a willingness to engage in discussions to find solutions, but if no agreement is reached by February 26, they will proceed with the lawsuit.

The Tijuana sewage crisis remains a significant concern for residents and environmental activists. The IBWC’s non-compliance with regulations and reported violations have prompted local organizations to demand action. The lawsuit threatened by San Diego Coastkeeper and CERF could serve as a significant turning point in holding the IBWC accountable for its actions and potentially alleviating the sewage crisis impacting the region.