Surfrider Foundation Sues Over Border Pollution

May 15 2018

The Surfrider Foundation, represented by the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery, today announced that it intends to file a citizen suit against the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC) for repeated violations of the Clean Water Act, including violations of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit it holds in relation to its operation of the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant (SBIWTP). The Surfrider Foundation sent the 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue letter today to address egregious violations of water quality regulations. The USIBWC’s mismanagement and inaction on trans-boundary contamination has resulted in beach closures, the reported human illness of residents and Border Patrol agents, negative implications for local businesses and contamination of the Pacific Ocean. 

Trans-boundary border sewage flows, unknown chemical pollutants and an increase in plastic debris travelling through the Tijuana River Valley have plagued South San Diego County for decades. This ongoing chemical contamination has resulted in illnesses, beach closures and impacts to the fiscal health of neighboring cities. The contamination also poses a threat to the health and safety of the California Border Patrol and the U.S. Navy, which train in this area. For the last decade, the Surfrider Foundation has been an integral part of trying to identify solutions to continued contamination of the Tijuana River Valley by participating in the Minute 320 water quality working group, the Tijuana River Action Network, the IBWC Citizens Forum and the Tijuana River Valley Recovery Team, amongst others. Surfrider has also urged all levels of government to take action on this issue. 

In February 2017, failures of the Mexican sewage infrastructure caused a massive contamination of sewage that polluted and closed beaches from Imperial Beach to Coronado. Millions of gallons of raw sewage spilled in the Tijuana River and ultimately the Pacific Ocean. This event affected hundreds of Imperial Beach and Coronado residents who have been forced to live with contamination affecting their homes, neighborhoods, favorite beaches and open spaces. More than 450 days have passed since the spill and yet there have been no long term solutions proposed to remedy the problem on the U.S. side of the border. 

After the massive sewage spill in February 2017, Surfrider decided to take action and focus on solutions by implementing a water quality testing program called the Blue Water Task Force (BWTF). Thanks to a grant received from Las Patronas, Surfrider was able to purchase a water quality lab that is currently hosted at Mar Vista High School in Imperial Beach where students are able to run weekly water quality tests at local beaches. The San Diego chapter is currently fundraising to purchase a second lab set to place at Coronado High School. The South Bay Clean Water Movement - No Border Sewage Campaign is ramping up efforts to protect clean water and healthy beaches by organizing an awareness campaign on the issue. For more information please visit

The USIBWC is a federal government agency with the mission of providing solutions regarding sanitation and water quality in the border region. The USIBWC has failed to achieve their mandate and has continually allowed flows of untreated raw sewage, chemical pollutants or plastic pollution to enter the Tijuana River Valley. The community has waited too long for solutions to this increasingly dangerous problem, and the Surfrider Foundation is now suing to compel the USIBWC to act.  

The Surfrider Foundation will have the ability to file a complaint in federal district court for these Clean Water Act violations if they are not addressed in the 60-day notice period. A link the Notice of Intent to Sue letter can be found here:


About the Surfrider Foundation 

The Surfrider Foundation is a nonprofit grassroots organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of our world’s ocean, waves and beaches through a powerful network. Founded in 1984 by a handful of visionary surfers in Malibu, California, the Surfrider Foundation now maintains over 500,000 supporters, activists and members, with more than 160 volunteer-led chapters and student clubs in the U.S., and more than 450 victories protecting our coasts. Learn more at, or visit