San Diego County supervisors join brewing legal battle against feds over Tijuana sewage spills

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to join the growing legal campaign to force the federal government to do more to stop sewage from spilling over the border from Tijuana and routinely fouling beaches.

“Enough is enough,” Supervisor Greg Cox, whose district includes a region bordering Mexico, said in a statement. “We’ve exhausted all our efforts to resolve this terrible situation and it’s time we force those responsible to once and for all fix this problem.”

A massive sewage spill in the Tijuana River in February fouled beaches as far north as Coronado, and polluted water has continued to regularly flow across the border into the Tijuana River valley through the river and a system of canyons.

In September, Imperial Beach, Chula Vista and the Port of San Diego filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. side of the International Boundary and Water Commission, which oversees water treaties with Mexico and facilitates funding for infrastructure projects along the border.

Officials with the commission have said in response to the legal actions that they’re conferring with the U.S. Department of Justice.

The city of San Diego voted last week to join the legal action, and Coronado has agreed to reimburse cities up to $50,000 for any lawsuits that result. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has also announced support for the legal strategy.

The commission has until the end of November to come up with a spending blueprint that satisfies local officials or risk getting hauled into court.

“Talking about this can only take us so far,” Cox said. “At some point, we have to take action to protect the health, water quality and economy of South County and our region.”

The move is aimed at forcing federal officials to orchestrate binational funding for improving Tijuana’s sewage infrastructure, which the boundary commission in April estimated was in need of about $500 million of repairs.

The U.S. and Mexico have spent billions on such projects in the past, including construction of wastewater treatment plants on both sides of the border. In the 1990s, before the upgrades were made, about 10 million gallons of raw sewage flowed daily down the Tijuana River into San Diego County.

The brewing legal battle follows the passage last month of a spending package by the U.S. House of Representatives that would eliminate the U.S.-Mexico Border Water Infrastructure Grant Program, which has helped facilitate upgrades to prevent sewage spills in Tijuana.

Budget negotiations in Congress are expected to continue through November.

joshua.smith@sandiegouniontribune.com

Smith writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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