International Boundary and Water Commission Litigation Update

The City of Imperial Beach is involved in multiple efforts to secure resources and commitments from local, state, federal, and Mexican agencies to eliminate the flow of transboundary pollution. One of these efforts includes litigation against the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) to uphold the conditions of the Clean Water Act and the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act. The added pressure from litigation has and continues to play an important part in holding accountable those responsible for the ongoing crisis in the Tijuana River Valley, and for shining a bright light on this issue. The City’s multi-pronged efforts played a substantial role in securing the recent congressional appropriation of $300 million to address transboundary pollution in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement Implementation Act.

Recently, the City of Imperial Beach, City of Chula Vista, Port of San Diego, State Water Board, State Lands Commission, City of San Diego and Surfrider Foundation all agreed to temporarily stay our lawsuits against the IBWC as part of a good-faith effort to facilitate development of a large-scale, multi-faceted federal pollution control project in the Tijuana River valley designed to ultimately solve the sewage, trash, and sedimentation crisis. There are four main reasons we agreed to this 12-month stay:

  1. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has committed to spending most or all of a $300 million Congressional appropriation in the Tijuana River Valley, beginning with a 12-month review process to identify projects for diverting and treating the flow of raw sewage and toxic chemicals through the Valley. Its review will include a deeper analysis of pollution control projects identified in San Diego County’s recently completed Tijuana River Needs and Opportunities Assessment, which took a preliminary technical feasibility look at several U.S.-side infrastructure projects in the Tijuana River Valley and has support from area cities, state agencies, non-profit groups, and other stakeholders.
  • The IBWC has made a long-overdue commitment to spend $2 million in coming months on specific equipment to help address transboundary pollution, including the current, ongoing sewage flow crisis that has repeatedly closed area beaches for the past seven months.
  • Mexico has made progress on its efforts to repair and replace critical infrastructure on its side of the border to prevent the unchecked flow of sewage and other hazardous pollutants into the Tijuana River Valley, including by obtaining funding to complete those projects.
  • The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board is using all regulatory tools at its disposal to address transboundary pollution in the near-term, including by working to revise IBWC’s Clean Water Act permit for its infrastructure in the Tijuana River Valley to include more aggressive measures to mitigate transboundary flows; and by pursuing much-needed Total Maximum Daily Loads for the Tijuana River to provide the Board another tool to protect water quality in the Tijuana River Valley.

If adequate progress toward transboundary pollution control is not being made via these processes at any point over the next 12 months, the City will ask the court to dissolve the stay and continue with the litigation. The City has not dropped its legal case against IBWC and will maintain legal pressure with the threat of resuming the case at any time. The City’s goal is to see real solutions get designed and constructed in the Tijuana River Valley so we may finally put an end to the pollution crisis that has long afflicted our community.

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