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Surfrider Sends Notice of Intent to Sue under Clean Water Act to Address Border Pollution

Surfrider Foundation, on behalf of our San Diego County Chapter, sent a Notice of Intent to Sue letter to the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission (“IBWC”) to address the egregious violations of the Clean Water Act affecting the waters of the U.S.-Mexico border region, including the coast off Imperial Beach and Coronado. Pollution in coastal waters poses an unacceptable risk to human health and the environment of the Tijuana River Valley, the waters of which flow into the Pacific Ocean. Surfrider Foundation has taken legal action today, after a decades-long campaign for No Border Sewage, in order to protect the surfing, swimming and other recreational resources of the San Diego coast; to defend threatened species and habitat; and to fight for clean water on our coast.

To address the plague of water pollution in the region and resultant beach closures, Surfrider initiated litigation under the citizen suit provision of the Clean Water Act Section 505, which authorizes citizens to bring suit in federal district court for violations of terms and conditions set forth in wastewater discharge permits issued under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) program.  Here, the IBWC violated its NPDES permit, which lays out effluent limitations and discharge specifications.  The IBWC allowed the illegal discharge of waste, including sewage, trash, sediment and industrial waste from its facilities in violation of its permit. The permit also lays out a monitoring and reporting program requirements, which IBWC failed to complete. IBWC is responsible for the routine and substantial discharge of wastewater and other pollutants from its flood control infrastructure into the Tijuana River Valley in violation of the Clean Water Act. These discharges of waste threaten conditions of pollution, contamination or nuisance as defined under California Water Code section 13050.

For over the last decade, Surfrider has been active in advocating for clean water in the Tijuana River Valley. In 2010 Surfrider was an integral part in the formation of the Tijuana River Action Network of non-profit groups on both sides of the border. We have also actively participated in many governmental stakeholder meetings.  We have led month-long clean-up activities in the Tijuana River Valley, organized community presentations, tours, outreach efforts and public education on the issue. Surfrider’s members are all too aware of the water quality degradation in the Tijuana River Valley that is not being sufficiently addressed by the current level of USIBWC efforts.

The Port of San Diego, City of Imperial Beach and City of Chula Vista filed a complaint under the Clean Water Act and Resources Conservation and Recovery Act in early March of this year, and the California State Water Resources Control Board also issued a Notice of Intent to Sue to the IBWC this week for the Clean Water Act violations.  Surfrider Foundation, through this litigation, seeks to compel wastewater infrastructure upgrades for the Tijuana River Valley, including specifically, those that improve interception and diversion of solid waste, wastewater collection and treatment, and water quality monitoring with timely public notification of contamination.  This is a complex issue, but Surfrider Foundation is dedicated to driving a solution!

Surfrider Foundation is very thankful to pro bono legal counsel of McDermott, Will & Emery LLP who will be representing the organization in this matter.