McDermott Represents Pro Bono Client Surfrider Foundation in Successful Resolution of Clean Water Act Violation - McDermott Will & Emery

McDermott Represents Pro Bono Client Surfrider Foundation in Successful Resolution of Clean Water Act Violation


International law firm McDermott Will & Emery represented the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit grassroots public interest organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of our world’s ocean, waves and beaches, in the successful resolution of a citizen lawsuit brought against the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC) claiming decades of pollution along the US-Mexico border violates the Clean Water Act.

McDermott served a Notice of Intent to Sue USIBWC in May 2018, and filed the lawsuit on behalf of Surfrider in July 2018 after no response was received. The lawsuit alleged rampant and extreme water pollution flowing from the Tijuana River that significantly contaminated the Tijuana River Valley and the Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern San Diego County. In December of 2018, McDermott defeated USIBWC’s motion to dismiss claiming sovereign immunity from the lawsuit.

After an almost four year court battle, Surfrider and plaintiffs in two additional related cases brought against USIBWC worked out a resolution to dismiss the cases in exchange for a series of specific actions that will ensure the USIBWC reduces over 75% of contaminated pollution year-round and allow accessibility to San Diego beaches. Among other actions, USIBWC agreed to diligently mitigate polluted water flows and regularly share information with stakeholders on its progress for a seven-year period.

The parties’ settlement agreement dovetails with implementation of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Comprehensive Infrastructure Solution, a holistic approach to permanently addressing water pollution from the Tijuana River Watershed that includes $300 million in committed federal funding.

“With the promises of this signed settlement agreement, Surfrider’s members and all the residents and visitors to the San Diego beaches and Tijuana River Valley will one day be able to enjoy the beauty of the coastline free of dangerous contaminants,” Jiaxiao Zhang, lead McDermott counsel on the case, said. “We are proud to have played a role to ensure that a federal agency respects its obligations under the law to protect citizens and our land from the hazards of water pollution.”

“This settlement agreement marks not only a great accomplishment after months of negotiations by attorneys but also years of strong Surfrider advocacy for Clean Border Water Now,” Angela Howe, Surfrider Foundation’s Senior Legal Director, said. “We couldn’t be more thrilled to see real water quality solutions coming forth at the border.”

Read Surfrider Foundation’s blog post here, and the City of Dan Diego’s press release here. This settlement resolves the following litigation:

  • Surfrider Foundation v. USIBWC et al. (Case No. 3:18-cv-01621-JM-JLB)
  • City of Imperial Beach, et al. v. USIBWC, et al. (Case No. 3:18-cv-00457-JM-JLB)
  • People of the State of California, Ex. Rel. The Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Diego Region, et al. v. USIBWC, et al. (Case No. 3:18-cv-02050-JM-JLB)

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