I will launch the tour for my new book, Surfing the Border, on Saturday January 24th in Coronado and Imperial Beach. I will be speaking and signing books at the Coronado Library Winn Room from 2-3pm and then from 5-6:30 pm I’ll be at the Pier South Resort in Imperial Beach. Should be a blast!!
Artists and restauranteurs are trying to bring Tijuana back. It is not an easy task. The once proud Avenida Revolucion, the heart and soul of touristy Tijuana is struggling to stay alive. Artists have inhabited former curio “pasajes” or passages. Pasaje Rodriguez near the corner of Revolucion and Third is one of them. Pasaje Rodriguez has cool little boutiques and galleries. Unfortunately most were closed when I was there on a Sunday afternoon. Best to return on a Friday or Saturday evenings. I will be back. Be sure to visit and eat at Javier Plascencia’s amazing newly renovated Caesar’s Restaurant on Revolucion–great food and very cool historic bistro atmosphere.
- Out of Mexico’s Violence, A Cultural Renaissance Emerges Along the Border (newamericamedia.org)
I grew up just a couple of miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. As a child, my parents would take me and my brother on bike rides down to Border Field State Park. Later as a teenager I would jump the non-existent fence and ride my bike around Playas de Tijuana.
Over the past few years, the Border Patrol made it tough to access the park. Pollution problems made surfing the area around the international border problematic at best. But with a sand replenishment project impacting surf conditions in my hometown of Imperial Beach and a less restrictive atmosphere at Border Field, my son Israel and I joined my childhood surfing buddy Chris Patterson for a recon of the U.S.-Mexico border fence.
A lot of people and especially journalists like to depict the U.S.-Mexico border as a war zone, but you have to hand it to the Border Patrol, State of California Dept. of Parks and Recreation, conservation groups that fought to keep Border Field open and Mexican authorities who cleaned up Playas de Tijuana–the bottom line is that this part of the border is pretty safe, beautiful and peaceful.
- TJ sewage spill fouls coast near border (utsandiego.com)
One of the most important things we can do as we see the impact of globalization on the state of our oceans is to communicate the solutions to our problems as broadly as possible. At WiLDCOAST we’ve focused on communicating the values of coastal and marine conservation in Spanish.
Anyone who travels the coast of Mexico and throughout Latin America will see first-hand the tsunami of plastic bags, bottles and styrofoam that litter beaches, estuaries and rivers. So we partnered with Tijuana’s musical innovators Nortec Collective: Hiperboreal to spread the word on the cleaning up our coast and ocean and why it is important to reduce, reuse and recycle plastic. Tijuana’s Galatea Audiovisual media collective filmed the video in the Tijuana River Valley, Imperial Beach, Playas de Tijuana and at the recent Baja Bash.
Thanks to the support of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, here’s our newest plastic-free ocean PSA:
- The Baja Bash (sergededina.com)
One of the most important tools for evaluating the state of our coast, is to carry out a transect from top to bottom. Two San Diego County coastal advocates and surfers, Shannon Switzer and Kristian Anders Gustavson, recently organized and led a seven day padding expedition from Trestles to Tijuana to get a better sense of the challenges we face in protecting our greatest natural resource.
Shannon, 28, is a National Geographic Young Explorer and 2012 Freshwater Hero.
Kristian, 27, is the Director of Research & Explorations for Below the Surface, was named one of Outside Magazine’s Chief Inspiration Officers for 2012 and ‘Hero of the Heartland’ from the American Red Cross.
I caught up with them last week as they finished their paddle in Imperial Beach just north of the new Tijuana River Mouth Marine Protected Area.
Serge: You recently paddled from Trestles to the U.S.-Mexico border. What was the purpose of the paddle?
Kristian Anders Gustavson: This paddle was the first annual event to celebrate the anniversary of Below to Surface, which was founded in the summer of 2008. Trestles to TJ was meant to draw attention to the impact of riverine water pollution on the coastline, and is the official launch of the Riverview Mobile App which is part of Below the Surface’s Riverview Project, or “Google’s Streetview for Rivers.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has worked closely with Below the Surface to develop the Riverview Mobile App, particularly to include information about the health of waterways for spurring grassroots stewardship of our rivers, lakes and coastal waters.
Shannon Switzer: I envisioned this paddle as an up close and personal way to see our coast in one connected piece, rather than in snippets, which is how I usually view it. I wanted to show the San Diego community that this connectivity means all of our actions, both on land and at sea, have a direct impact on the coastline and motivate people to do their part in caring for the beaches we all love and enjoy.
Serge: What were your favorite parts of the paddle and coastline?
Shannon and Kristian: Paddling along Camp Pendleton was a treat. So was paddling Sunset Cliffs, through the kelp forests just offshore, and coming around Point Loma to see downtown San Diego and the Coronado Bridge along the horizon. That was pretty epic.
Serge: Why was it necessary to highlight the conditions of our coast above and below surface?
Shannon and Kristian: Everything in the environment is linked together, and an action like dumping old household cleaning supplies down the drain at home can have a negative impact on both people and wildlife in the ocean. Because of our unique location on the coast, we have a responsibility to be aware of these connections and to modify our behavior accordingly.
Serge: How many people participated in the Paddle at the start, how many finished and what were the unique challenges that you faced logistically and paddle wise?
Shannon and Kristian: The first day we began with about 15 paddlers, by the end of the week we had about eight. This was because we started on the weekend, when more people were available, and then continued through the work week. Also, our first day was our longest at 20 miles, which I think weeded out a few paddlers. Logistically it was tricky getting all the boards and paddlers together in the right place each day.
15 paddlers from a variety of organizations including Below the Surface, the SUP Spot, the Mission Continues, National Geographic Young Explorers, the Eco Warrior Project, SUP Core, Expedition 1000, Red I Nation, Namaste SUP and endurance athlete Ryan Levinson came coming together for this inaugural event.
Serge: Were any parts of the coastline distressing in terms of pollution and or other human impacts?
Shannon and Kristian: We were happily surprised with the condition of our coastline. The most heartbreaking thing to me was all of the trash in the water. Every hundred yards or so we would find plastic shopping bags, water bottles, balloons, etc. It is frustrating to see something that is so easily prevented. The only specific stretch of coastline that was distressing was at the sewage outfall near Point Loma.
Serge: What were some of the wildlife species that your team spotted. Were you surprised to see so many animals off of our coast?
Shannon and Kristian: We saw heaps of wildlife: seals, sea lions, porpoises, bottle nose dolphins, a shark or two, garibaldi, tons of jellyfish, marine birds. We weren’t surprised by the number of species we encountered, because we see a lot of this marine life while surfing, but it’s always a thrill when wildlife pays a visit. The average visitor or tourist may be surprised to see how truly wild it is off San Diego’s shores.
Serge: From the vantage point just offshore, does it seem to make the problems that we face coast-wise less challenging or more challenging?
Shannon and Kristian: Seeing the immensity of the coastline from offshore on a little board definitely puts things into perspective. It didn’t make coastal problems seem more or less challenging, but rather confirmed the need to continue moving forward with policies and personal practices that will benefit our coast and the San Diego community too.
With the recent storms that dropped more than an inch of rain along the coast in Southern California and more than an inch and a half in the mountains, rivers, gullies, streams and storm drains carried the runoff directly into the Pacific Ocean. Along most of our coast there is a significant risk associated with surfing after it has rained. Paloma Aguirre of WiLDCOAST, a longtime competitive bodyboarder, is working to clean up what is arguably the most polluted stretch of coastline in Southern California, the area around entrance to the Tijuana River just north of the U.S.-Mexico Border.
However Paloma does not work alone to safeguard our coast. In San Diego she partners with the City of Imperial Beach, City of San Diego, County of San Diego, State of California, and the U.S. EPA, as well as organizations such as San Diego Coastkeeper, Surfrider Foundation-San Diego Chapter, I Love a Clean San Diego, Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, and Heal the Bay, to stop polluters, clean up beaches and watersheds, and educate the public about how to reduce our ocean pollution footprint.
Patch: It rained more than an inch along the coast over the weekend and an inch and a half in the mountains over the weekend. How does all that rain end up causing water quality problems along the coast?
Paloma Aguirre: Urban runoff is the number one cause of ocean pollution after a significant rainfall. Impervious surfaces can increase runoff that can contain gasoline, motor oil and other pollutants from roadways and parking lots, as well as fertilizers nd pesticides from lawns.
Patch: Specifically, what illnesses are associated with rain-related runoff in the ocean?
Aguirre: Runoff can cause a large number of illnesses ranging from gastrointestinal infections to ear, eye, and skin infections.
Patch: What should ocean users and especially surfers do to keep themselves healthy during the rainy season in Southern California?
Aguirre: Ocean users and surfers should avoid entering the ocean for at least 72 hours following a rainfall event.
Patch: What are the trouble spots along the coast that surfers should be looking out for in terms of avoiding problem areas?
Aguirre: River mouths, jetties, bays, storm drains or any area where water enters the ocean usually have higher levels of bacteria. The County of San Diego provides current information on beach closures that can be found here.
Patch: What are the consistently most polluted surf spots in San Diego County?
Aguirre: The most impacted beaches in all of San Diego County are Border Field State Park, the Tijuana Sloughs and Imperial Beach due to sewage contaminated water from the Tijuana River. It accounts for 85% of all of San Diego County’s beach closures.
Patch: You’ve been working with researchers at San Diego State University to get a better understanding of the health implications with contact with polluted water along the U.S.-Mexico border. What were the findings? And what did you and WiLDCOAST do to prevent ocean-related illnesses?
Aguirre: The study showed that there is a 1 in 10 chance of contracting Hepatitis A (among many other viral and bacterial infections) when coming in contact with polluted water from the Tijuana River. WiLDCOAST partnered with the Imperial Beach Health Center to provide free Hepatitis A vaccinations to local ocean users. The program is still available to ocean users Please call (619) 429-3733 and ask for a “Hepatitis A Vaccination for Imperial Beach Ocean Users.” (Available to adults only)
Patch: What are the key things that everyone can do to reduce ocean pollution?
Aguirre: There are many things people can do in their daily lives that can prevent ocean pollution. Reduce the use of chemical fertilizers on lawns and gardens. When it rains it washes out to the ocean. Dispose of chemicals such as motor oils, paint and chemicals adequately to avoid runoff. Avoid leaving pet waste on the street; it can carry bacteria and viruses that can harm human and wildlife health.
Patch: There has been a lot of awareness about the plague of plastic and debris in the ocean? What are the sources of the “plastic plague” and specifically what can people do to reduce their impact on the environment.
Aguirre: Disposable plastics are the greatest source of plastic pollution. Plastic bags, straws, bottles, utensils, lids, cups, and so many others offer a small convenience but remain forever. It is important to follow the “4 R’s: in our daily lives to ensure a sustainable future: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Patch: You have been working with WiLDCOAST over the past few years to reduce the amount of ocean pollution along the U.S.-Mexico border and reduce the amount of plastic and waste tires flowing into the ocean from the Tijuana River. Talk about the extent of the problem and some of the solutions you have developed?
Aguirre: A recent report estimates that there are currently over 10 million plastic bottles and more than 5,000 ocean-bound waste tires in the Tijuana River Valley and Estuary. The City of Tijuana does not have enough resources to provide sufficient trash collection and sewage collection to unregulated urban developments. Because of the hydrology of the watershed, a lot of uncollected waste washes across the border when it rains. During the recent Tijuana River Action Month we worked to mobilize over 2,600 volunteers on the both sides of the border to clean up over 63,000 pounds of trash. And last week we collaborated with the City of Tijuana to remove 350 waste tires from Los Laureles Canyon before it rained.
The objective of the index is to have a monitoring scorecard that communities, scientists and government agencies can use to determine coastal and ocean health locally, regionally and nationally.
The group included fishermen, seafood harvesters (e.g. shellfish and seaweed), elected officials, energy company representatives, conservationists, scientists and the Chief of State of the Makah tribe.
Everyone in the room, especially the fishermen, made it clear that ocean water quality and biodiversity were the two most important indicators for managing the health of the coast and ocean.
The consensus was that without clean water and healthy marine life, it’s almost impossible to have a vibrant tourism and fishing economy.
Meanwhile many local leaders have spent the last decade in denial about ocean pollution.
They fear that discussing the issue will somehow negatively impact the economy and local property values.
The bay side of Silver Strand State Beach in Coronado was recently shut down due to a sewage spill from the Sept. 8 mass outage.
In 2011 the main beach in Imperial Beach has been closed 56 days. The south end of the beach was closed 224 days.
In 2010 the main beach was closed 26 days. The south end of the beach was closed 226 days (and yes the south end of the beach is still Imperial Beach).
Meanwhile most south swell pollution goes unreported.
Today we continue to work with local residents on both sides of the border to clean up the tons and tons of garbage that wash into the ocean.
Last January WiLDOCAST notified authorities about a sewage spill in Playas de Tijuana that went unchecked for more than three weeks, resulting in more than 31 million gallons of sewage discharged into the surf zone in Imperial Beach and the border area.
Together with local, state and federal agencies on both sides of the border, our collaborative work has resulted in significant achievements.
These include the recent inauguration of a new international sewage treatment plant; the opening of three new sewage plants in Tijuana-Rosarito; progress on stopping the frequent discharges at Playas de Tijuana; and the cleaning up of thousands of waste tires and hundreds of tons of trash in the Tijuana River Valley by community members.
I invite everyone to join to help to clean up our region and make sure that our coast and ocean is as pristine as possible. Because even one day of beach pollution is one day too many.
There are plenty of opportunities to do so in October with Tijuana River Action Month. The next event will be held Oct. 1.
- Environment and Hope on the U.S.-Mexico Border (sergededina.com)
- On The Road: A Border Crossing That Pits Fence Against Friendship (huffingtonpost.com)
The Southwest’s top environmental regulator toured the southern edge of San Diego County on Wednesday to promote an eight-year plan for improving water supplies, air quality and energy efficiency along the 2,000-mile boundary between the United States and Mexico.Jared Blumenfeld, regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency based in San Francisco, didn’t hit the spots that most visitors go. Instead, he stopped at the corrugated metal border fence, a wastewater treatment plant and a garbage pile in the Tijuana River Valley to build support for a binational blueprint.Called Border 2020, it is the latest in a string of cooperative strategies that goes back to a 1983 agreement between the two countries. The expansive document focuses on climate change, children’s health and environmental education among other priorities. Blumenfeld is working with Mexico, ten border states and 26 border tribes to finalize plans.He was at once upbeat about the potential for solutions and sober about the difficulty of convincing Congress to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on related projects when funding for the U.S.-Mexico Border Water Infrastructure Program has shrunk by 90 percent since the mid-1990s. Border cleanup advocates said Blumenfeld’s interest is enough to boost hope that seemingly intractable problems will continue to shrink even if they won’t disappear.The current Border 2012 program expires next year. It’s credited with helping to reduce flooding, improve estuaries, boost drinking water supplies, remove junk tires and prompt other upgrades in the region where 14 million people live.“Incremental progress can sometimes feel frustratingly slow,” Blumenfeld said, before ducking into the towering brush that hides streams of trash along the Tijuana River. “The needs remain great.”In few places are the challenges as clear as they are in San Ysidro, which sits downhill from Tijuana and has suffered from sewage and garbage flowing across the border for decades.
“(Similar problems) have been solved in other places,” said Blumenfeld. “It’s not a question of this being the first place to solve them. … Just the fact that now 90 percent of Tijuana residents have access to wastewater treatment systems is a testament to the fact that it can be done.”He said the biggest issue is financing as his agency and others try to trim costs.“The amount of money that was being given to this in the last 15 years will be hard to replicate in the next 15 years,” Blumenfeld said. “The real question is how we focus on things that have to be done and at the same time work out funding sources and streams that are sustainable.”Border 2020 is supposed to be the central forum for how work priorities are set.
[Draft document and directions for how to file comments about it.]Serge Dedina, a veteran border cleanup advocate with Wildcoast in Imperial Beach, said Border 2012 set a solid foundation. EPA’s website shows it gave Wildcoast $53,000 last year to reduce trash in Tijuana’s Los Laureles Canyon.“EPA has been really strong understanding the needs on the ground,” Dedina said. “It’s much more effective to train Tijuana residents to deal with trash instead of paying people in the United States to clean up.”
From my Southwest Surf Column of May 18, 2011:
Last Friday I attended the inauguration of the new upgrade of the International Wastewater Treatment Plant in San Ysidro.
This ribbon-cutting event marked the end of a decade-long effort to have the plant, which discharges treated sewage into the Pacific Ocean, meet Clean Water Act standards. In accordance with a binational treaty, the plant treats 25 million gallons a day of sewage collected in Tijuana and treated less than a mile north of the border.
The new plant will mean that the ocean outfall pipe located more than three miles from shore just north of the U.S.-Mexico border will discharge considerably cleaner water for Imperial Beach and Coronado.
For years, a lack of adequate sewage infrastructure in the border region has posed a serious environmental and health threat to the communities of San Diego and Tijuana. This problem has gradually worsened over the years with the substantial growth of Tijuana’s population and industrial sector.
Large volumes of untreated wastewater still flow into the Tijuana River valley today and into the ocean just south of the border.
In July 1990 the U.S. and Mexico agreed to build an International Wastewater Treatment Plant (IWTP) on the U.S. side of the border as part of a regional solution. This facility is now treating sewage flows that exceed the capacity of the existing Tijuana sewage treatment system. In doing so, it plays a key role in restoring the environmental quality of the Tijuana River valley and safeguarding the health of border region residents.
The U.S. wastewater plant is run by the International Boundary and Water Commission, which operates sewage and flood control projects all along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The San Ysidro facility never met the “secondary treatment” standards in U.S. law until just recently. That’s partly because the commission couldn’t afford to complete all of the necessary infrastructure within its initial budget of $239 million.
For much of the past decade, treatment upgrades were on hold while a San Diego County company called Bajagua lobbied for a federal contract to build and operate a separate plant in Mexico. That effort fell apart in May 2008, when thanks to the advocacy work by the residents of Imperial Beach and Coronado, the city of Imperial Beach and WiLDCOAST, the U.S. government decided to upgrade the San Ysidro facility rather than build a new plant in Tijuana. That decision saved American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
On hand to celebrate the new treatment plant were Baja California Governor Jose Guadalupe Osuna Millan, International Boundary and Water Commissioner Commissioner Edward Drusina, CILA Commissioner Roberto Salmon, California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Linda Adams, WiLDCOAST’s Ben McCue and many other officials and community members. Two prominent IB surfers who attended the event included, Katy Fallon and Kristy Murphy.
I made a point of thanking officials from both the U.S. and Mexico, including Governor Osuna, on finally finishing the plant.
While much work remains to be done, it is important to recognize the substantial progress that has been made.
More progress will only come when IB and Coronado surfers continue to constructively lobby elected officials and agencies to allocate funding to systematically deal with binational water quality problems.
Since it is our coastline, we have to be the ones taking the lead on identifying problems and working with agencies to implement solutions.
That is the only way we can reclaim our beaches and our coast.
Ben McCue contributed to this article.
My IB and Coronado Southwest Surf Column from this week.
January was a great month to be a surfer in San Diego. Lots of consistent medium size surf with excellent conditions. Unfortunately I’ve been out of the water with a bad cold and cough for the past 12 days so I have missed some of the cleaner swells. But there have been lots of reports of great sessions up and down the coast and more swell is on the way this week.
“I have been surfing around Sunset Cliffs during the last swell. It was solid 4-6′ and clean,” said Sean Malbanan. “I also scored P.B. Point, 4-8′, perfect rights. Surfed with Josh Hall, Masi of Masi Surfboards and my Dad, Paul Malabanan. I have been riding a 5’10” Lost Rocket, a 6’2″ Channel Island Flyer and my 9’0″ Stewart.”
Zach Plopper has been back and forth between North County, Imperial Beach and Baja. “I had an epic afternoon at San Miguel with only 7 other surfers in the water and a fun morning at Baja Malibu with my WiLDCOAST co-worker Ben McCue,” Zach recounted. “And of course there were plenty of mornings at Boc’s scattered in between.”
There were plenty of days at the Sloughs to be had. Jeff “Spiderman” Knox, who is currently on the North Shore with Kimball Dodds, said, “The Sloughs was at it’s best for over a week in late January. The usual gang rode super lefts and very good rights for days on end. Kelly Krauss was the stand out on his Sloughs SUP. We watched him from First Notch score left after double overhead left in the middle of the reef we traditional surfers could never have tracked down.”
In addition to catching great waves on his own SUP, Kelly experimented with a, “Ugly beast of a windsurf board that was chipped, dinged and dented but basically seaworthy that I found on the beach. It had been sloppily spray painted black and for a fin someone had jammed a 1 foot by 1 foot square piece of 1 inch thick plywood diagonally into the just-back-of-center keel slot. I decided to try it out and paddled it prone out through the inside whitewater and then went stand up without too much difficulty. After a few minutes I lined up and caught a smaller wave no one really wanted, maybe waist high. I would love to be able to say I cruised it all the way to the beach but I as I dropped in I got a bit too ambitious and tried a sort of bottom turn. The thing just rolled on me. I lost it. Obviously there was no leash, and besides, at maybe 30 pounds, the thing would have torn off a leg.”
On Saturday I gave a talk to the Doheny Longboard Surfing Association on the beach at Doheny State Park. Afterward, I picked up the groms who were participating in the annual Coronado Middle and High School Surf teams Church’s/Trestles Camping Trip. I pulled up to the San Onofre parking lot to see beautiful waves lined up from Church’s to Lowers. What a sight.
“We’ve been going on this surf team trip for ten years. Every year seems better than the last,” said Lorton Mitchell. “That stretch of beach is a real gift and the kids seem to really appreciate the treasure. Lots of the surf community shares the resource, but it is generally a pretty fair attitude in the water. We wached Five Summer Stories near the campfire. I don’t know if it was the movie or the three sessions that day put that put the kids to sleep by 8:30.”
“The weather was insane all day Saturday. Lowers in the morning and Uppers till dark,” reported Sharon “Peachy” Alldredge
Ed Pollitt, who teaches Philosophy at West Chester University in New Jersey traveled to Imperial Beach to visit his aunt Leslie McCollum and catch some California surf. According to Ed, “It was nice to be back in Imperial Beach. Despite the pollution, I caught some fast, sectiony rights in the chest to head high range that were breaking off the south side of the pier. I surfed with a fun and friendly group of locals. One afternoon, I lounged on the beach till late, jumping in for a few quick rights just as the sun went down. The water was ablaze in orange and red. I’ll be back soon.”