Im­pe­rial Beach set to sue U.S. over bor­der pol­lu­tion

City of­fi­cials file le­gal com­plaint about flow of waste­water into San Diego County.

Los Angeles Times - - OBITUARIES - joshua.smith@sdunion­tri­ Smith writes for the San Diego Union-Tri­bune. By Joshua Emer­son Smith

SAN DIEGO — Of­fi­cials in Im­pe­rial Beach this week an­nounced they were pre­par­ing to take le­gal ac­tion against the fed­eral gov­ern­ment con­cern­ing the con­tin­ued flow of pol­luted waste­water from Ti­juana into San Diego County.

The city is tar­get­ing the U.S. sec­tion of the In­ter­na­tional Boundary and Wa­ter Com­mis­sion, a bi­na­tional agency that over­sees wa­ter treaties be­tween the U.S. and Mex­ico. Im­pe­rial Beach of­fi­cials al­lege that the agency re­peat­edly has failed to cap­ture and treat sewage rou­tinely flow­ing across the bor­der through canyons and the Ti­juana River.

“We’re hop­ing to force the U.S. gov­ern­ment to ad­dress this is­sue and spend the money needed to stop the flow of toxic waste and sewage into the Ti­juana River and un­der the bor­der fence,” said Im­pe­rial Beach Mayor Serge De­d­ina, who also heads the en­vi­ron­men­tal group Wild­coast.

Of­fi­cials with the U.S. sec­tion of the boundary com­mis­sion de­nied al­le­ga­tions that they haven’t taken proper steps to safe­guard the re­gion’s wa­ter qual­ity.

“It’s im­por­tant to ac­knowl­edge that we have taken and con­tinue to take con­crete ac­tions to ad­dress con­di­tions at the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der,” said Sally Spener, spokes­woman for the panel. “We’ve been very re­spon­sive to the city of Im­pe­rial Beach and have taken con­crete ac­tions on some of their rec­om­men­da­tions and the rec­om­men­da­tions of other stake­hold­ers. That in­cludes study­ing in­fra­struc­ture al­ter­na­tives on the U.S. side.”

Im­pe­rial Beach has re­tained an out­side law firm to pre­pare a 60-day no­tice that is re­quired be­fore it can sue the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for the al­leged vi­o­la­tions of the U.S. Clean Wa­ter Act.

The le­gal team is also rep­re­sent­ing the city in a po­ten­tially ground­break­ing law­suit against the world’s largest oil and coal com­pa­nies for the lo­cal fi­nan­cial im­pacts of sea-level rise.

Long-held frus­tra­tions came to a head in Fe­bru­ary, af­ter mil­lions of gal­lons of sewage poured into the Ti­juana River south of the bor­der and fouled beaches as far north as Coron­ado.

A bi­na­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tion found that as much as 256 mil­lion gal­lons of raw sewage and waste­water went un­ac­counted for as a re­sult of heavy rains that over­whelmed Ti­juana’s sewer sys­tem, crack­ing pipes that spilled di­rectly into the river. It was the lat­est flash­point for the cross­bor­der wa­ter pol­lu­tion is­sue, which has per­sisted for decades de­spite fi­nan­cial in­vest­ments by Mex­ico and the U.S. to make var­i­ous in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ments.

U.S. Bor­der Pa­trol agents who work in the re­gion have come out in sup­port of the city’s le­gal ac­tion.

Of­fi­cials with a lo­cal Bor­der Pa­trol union have said they’re con­sid­er­ing fil­ing their own law­suit against the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to high­light what they said are haz­ardous work con­di­tions.

In re­cent months, the lo­cal union has ex­pressed con­cerns about res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems, rashes and nau­sea that it said are linked to cross-bor­der spills.

Bor­der Pa­trol agents have also filed dozens of re­ports doc­u­ment­ing ad­verse re­ac­tions af­ter they came into con­tact with sewage flows, in­clud­ing chem­i­cal burns, rashes and res­pi­ra­tory is­sues.

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