U.S. Ninth Circuit - The FindLaw 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Cross-Border Pollution Case Can Proceed Over Tijuana Sewage

Judge Jeffrey Miller has an international border case that is beyond his reach.

It is hard enough that the case is about wastewater flowing from Mexico border town Tijuana to nearby San Diego County, California. But it is even more complicated than the course of pollution spilling into waterways and ocean bays.

City of Imperial Beach v. International Boundary Water Commission is the first case of its kind. It asks the court to address a Clean Water Act violation from polluted waters entering United States from another country.

Wastewater Treatment

The defendants, including the International Boundary Water Commission, treat sewage and wastewater from Tijuana as it crosses the border. They also operate capture basins along the border.

The plaintiffs, two cities and the San Diego Port District, sued earlier this year alleging the defendants are violating the Clean Water Act by discharging pollutants from Mexico into local waters.

The IBWC -- a bi-national government agency -- asked the judge to dismiss the case. Among other reasons, the defendants said that only the U.S. and Mexican governments can solve the problem.

The judge generally denied the motion to dismiss, saying there was not enough evidence to reach the ultimate issues in the case. He also said any relief the court may grant "would not end the flow of polluted water from Mexico into the United States," but could reduce the waste going into the waterways and Pacific Ocean.

Untreated Sewage

Outside the borders of the lawsuit, Mexico's wastewater has plagued the border cities for decades.

Last year, a major sewage line collapsed in Tijuana and sent untreated sewage towards California's Imperial Beach. Mexico officials declared a state of emergency, but failed to notify U.S. authorities as beachgoers reported foul odors over a two-week period.

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