Imperial Beach, Calif. (Border Report) — The Surfrider Foundation this week submitted a petition to California Gov. Gavin Newsom and President Joe Biden calling for an emergency declaration to address what it calls a serious public health and environmental crisis along the Tijuana River Valley.

According to the state of California and numerous organizations like Surfrider, millions of gallons of untreated sewage, dangerous chemicals, and trash flow across the US-Mexico border through the Tijuana River Valley Watershed every day, with most of the debris and pollution ending up north of the border and in the Pacific Ocean.

Surfrider says that since October 2018, the International Boundary and Water Commission has documented more than 100 billion gallons of cross-border flows carrying toxic waste through the Tijuana River, with more than 37 billion gallons of polluted water crossing the border this year alone. 

Surfrider joined the California Coastal Commission and other plaintiffs in filing a complaint against the IBWC, alleging that it violated the Clean Water Act by not addressing cross-boundary pollution. As part of a settlement, the IBWC agreed to, among other things, “improve its canyon collector network, support a main channel berm, (and) improve its stakeholder communication.”

Surfrider says this is a problem affecting the health of thousands of U.S. residents in cities such as Imperial Beach, California.

“We need this fixed,” said Bethany Case, an Imperial Beach resident and member of Surfrider, whose mission is to protect the world’s oceans, waves and beaches for enjoyment. “We are hearing every day that more and more people are having (gastrointestinal) issues, that people are developing allergies, and we have so many people that are reporting illnesses, and we’re being largely ignored and it’s frustrating.”

Bethany Case is an Imperial Beach resident, Clean Border Water Now lead volunteer and Surfrider Foundation member. (Salvador Rivera/Border Report)

Case also says the sewage flows pose a serious hazard to people who enjoy recreating in the ocean and visiting the beach.

“For us to not even be comfortable walking on the beach …,” Case lamented. “We can’t open our windows at night, we have to make sure that we warn visitors about not going in the water and obeying the signs. It smells most of the time.”

The coastline in the south portion of Imperial Beach has been closed for more than 670 consecutive days, according to San Diego County data.

“If you live here, you cannot escape it, and so they have to accept the health hazards and it’s not right,” Case said.

Case hopes Newsom does take into account the petition and asks Biden to declare a state of emergency for the area.

“This petition has over 3,200 signatures that says please somebody do something.”

Cases says if an emergency declaration is made, it will free up funding and cut a lot of the red tape that is preventing several pollution and sewage mitigating projects from getting off the ground.

In response to an inquiry from Border Report, the governor’s office shared the letter that it sent to the Coastal Commission, stating that the longstanding Tijuana River sewage crisis has been a priority of Newson and his administration.

The letter further stated that Newsom declaring a state of emergency wouldn’t aid the response to the crisis, explaining that the situation would likely require a disaster declaration from the federal government.

“A state proclamation of emergency is not necessary to trigger a federal emergency declaration,” the letter states.

On the other hand, the letter outlines actions Newsom has taken to address the issue, including engaging with federal and binational partners; joining local municipalities in supporting Sens. Alex Padilla and the late Dianne Feinstein’s call for $310 million to address the crisis; and working to unlock federal funds.

“The bottom line is, we need this fixed, it is a public health crisis,” Case said.