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Settlement reached in long-running cross-border sewage litigation

Any violation of the terms means the entities can revive their lawsuits and file new lawsuits for any new alleged violations

SAN DIEGO — The agency tasked with overseeing wastewater infrastructure in the Tijuana River Valley will mitigate and address cross-border water flows, per a settlement announced Tuesday regarding millions of gallons of wastewater that poured into the San Diego region from Mexico.

"Every time it rains and the sewer water gets in there, I can't come down to the beach, I get flare ups," said Keith Thrall. 

Thrall lives just a flew blocks from Imperial Beach and he has asthma and his breathing issues get noticeably worse after it rains.   

"Within two, three days I start building up where I have to use my Albuterol just to keep breathing," said Thrall. 

The settlement aims to resolve long-running litigation filed by several agencies and municipalities, which alleged that the U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission allowed polluted water, trash and sediment to flow into the United States over the course of several years, in violation of the Clean Water Act.

The USIBWC was the sole defendant in all lawsuits filed since 2018, while plaintiffs included the cities of San Diego, Imperial Beach and Chula Vista, as well as the Port of San Diego, California San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, California State Lands Commission, and Surfrider Foundation.

"This settlement, and the collaborative approach underpinning it, will prevent damage to California's public lands and help us achieve one of our core mandates -- providing public access to California's beautiful beaches and the Pacific Ocean," State Controller and State Lands Commission Chair Betty Yee said.

Per the settlement, the USIBWC has agreed to several terms, including proposing construction of another temporary sediment berm to intercept transboundary flows, expanding public outreach regarding its efforts to divert and remedy wastewater flows, and assessing the feasibility for sediment and trash removal in the Tijuana River Flood Control Channel.

Any violation of the terms means the entities can revive their lawsuits and file new lawsuits for any new alleged violations.

The settlement agreement is pending implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency's plan to commit $300 million in federal funding for projects aimed at reducing the amount of polluted water flowing into the U.S. sections of the Tijuana River Valley.

"This settlement is a major milestone that represents the success our region has made in taking a unified approach to finally put an end to the unacceptable conditions that have allowed for millions of gallons of untreated sewage to pollute our beaches and waterways in the Tijuana River Valley," San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said. "Our region is committed to continuing to work collaboratively with the federal government to make progress on the priorities outlined in the settlement, including utilizing the $300 million in committed federal funding."

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