California residents are settling lawsuits against the Binational Water Commission

April 12, 2022

On Tuesday, California residents filed three lawsuits against the International Border and Water Commission or IBWC, the bi-national agency that handles some of the sewage-laden water rolling into the U.S. from Tijuana under an agreement between the two states.

At the base of the many complaints from the city of Imperial Beach, the Surferreder Foundation, and the San Diego Regional Water Control Council and others was general frustration that the IBWC, which runs an international border wastewater treatment plant, is not doing enough to prevent and monitor Tijuana sewage entering the Tijuana River and Valley. B.

The lawsuit alleges that the IBWC violated the Federal Clean Water Act by allowing millions of gallons of raw sewage, heavy metals and other contaminants to seep into San Diego, close beaches along Southern California shores and bring questionable water quality to the watershed and surfing area.

The settlement is not an admission of guilt. But the IBWC has agreed to a laundry list of new tasks like assisting Mexico in building a more permanent dirt barrier built across the riverbed to divert polluted water back to Tijuana’s sewage system instead of flowing into the river valley, and provide more public opportunities to interface with the agency. There are also a bunch of new reporting requirements, like tracking and trying to prevent garbage from reaching metal bars that strain all the water flowing from Tijuana’s canyons.

“It’s very difficult for our residents to be patient but I think what’s important is that the IBWC is under new leadership … focus on a lot of little things that are helping us,” said Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dadina in an interview.

A seven-week-old sewage spill earlier this year, which IBWC believes was due to a pipe rupture on the Mexican side, also revealed that a sewage treatment plant at the border needs serious upgrades. David Gibson, CEO of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Council, said IBWC is already investing in purchasing equipment to carry out these repairs.

“This arrangement preserves our ability to take enforcement action as necessary if they do not,” Gibson said.

Local officials have credited the new IBWC leader, Maria-Elena Jiner and the new operations manager of the Morgan Rogers plant, for improving communication and transparency about cross-border sewage leaks and a willingness to consider doing more than what Congress specifically authorizes the agency to do by law.

“Ginner is aware of the maintenance issues that are being postponed at the treatment plant. She wants to solve them,” Gibson said. “It is very possible that her administration at the IBWC is what helped bring it across the border.”

The $ 300 million pledge from the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement has also helped calm down over the four years since the initial lawsuit was filed. To end these lawsuits – for now.

The compromise agreement has a lifespan of seven years, Gibson said. Until then, the Regional Water Quality Council expects that the expanded treatment plant will be built.

But there is more work worth $ 300 million or more that the border will need to really impact the pollution out of bounds, according to estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“USIBWC is pleased that the agreed arrangement has been reached in cooperation,” said Lori Kochmansky, a spokeswoman for the agency. “The USIBWC expects … to work collaboratively with stakeholders in the region to address these issues.”

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