Skip to content (press enter)


Open Letter Regarding Border Sewage


Dear Federal, State, City, and Local political representatives,

The Surfrider Foundation San Diego Chapter is writing to express our outrage regarding the 143 million gallons of raw sewage that was discharged into the Tijuana River upstream in Tijuana from February 6 to 23, 2017, as well as the many subsequent flows since then. Sewage discharges from Mexico into the Tijuana River valley have created an emergency situation that is threatening public health, the environment, and our national security. I call upon you to resolve this critical issue as soon as possible.

While the Tijuana River is notorious for trash and sewage, February's spill is by far the largest raw sewage spill into the Tijuana River in over a decade. The Tijuana River snakes the U.S./Mexico Border and ultimately discharges into the Pacific Ocean. The enormity of the spill polluted beaches from Rosarito, MX to Coronado, CA - posing an unacceptable risk to humans, wildlife, and the environment.

It should also be noted that the sewage outflows from the Tijuana river directly affect U.S. Border Patrol agents as well as the U.S. Navy Seals (who train in Imperial Beach and are currently building a $1 billion expansion to their campus). Sewage from the Tijuana river is a direct threat to our national security and the problem needs to be addressed immediately.

In early February 2017, residents of Imperial Beach and Tijuana noticed the familiar sewage stench and made multiple queries to the IBWC and authorities in Baja Norte, MX, asking what was going on. Despite the overwhelming evidence that a major sewage spill was occurring, these queries were met with deafening silence on both sides of the border.

It was not until February 24, 2017, 18 days into the sewage spill, that the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) in San Diego publicly acknowledged the spill by publishing a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) federal sewage spill report that confirmed the discharge of 143 million gallons of raw sewage. Over two weeks with no public announcement of the sewage spill is On April 3, the IBWC released a report  titled, “Report of Transboundary Bypass Flows into the Tijuana River”, in which they detail their findings from an investigation into the February spill.

As outlined by the U.S.-Mexico IBWC Treaty Minute 320, sewage spills are required to be reported immediately. This accord, along with others, calls for cooperation between the two nations to prohibit and eliminate pollution issues in the Tijuana River Valley.

Considering this pressing situation, I am calling upon you to:


  • Launch a federal investigation into the management and practices of the IBWC regarding why it took more than 3 weeks for U.S. citizens to learn of the spill.
  • Develop policies that would ensure a regular system of communication with respect to water quality, contamination, and sewer works between the IBWC and CILA (IBWC’s Mexican counterpart)
  • Support the expansion and frequency of water quality testing by the IBWC and the City of San Diego.
  • Promote the development of a plan that will address Mexico’s deficient infrastructure issue and the environmental impact it has on local beaches.
  • Advocate for the use of Federal and State resources to stop sewage discharges in the Tijuana River as a result of Tijuana’s waste water management issues.
  • Enforce IBWC Minute 283 and 320 which stipulates against discharges of sewage into the Tijuana River Valley.
  • Hold the parties and individuals responsible for this spill accountable.


For Surfrider’s full policy position on the border sewage issue, visit
Thank you for your time and consideration.