Environment and Security Along the U.S.-Mexico Border

I wrote this for the New Security Beat blog of The Environmental Change and Security Program of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

In 2005, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began the construction of a massive earthen, concrete, and metal security barrier along much of the U.S.-Mexico border, from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.

Framing it as an issue of national security, DHS used provisions in the Real ID Act to waive environmental laws and citizen review for the controversial infrastructure project.

Smuggler's Gulch on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Unfortunately in Imperial Beach, California – my corner of the U.S.-Mexico border – the poorly engineered barrier has caused serious environmental mishaps and damage. In 2009 the Voice of San Diego reported that DHS circumvented numerous local and state laws in the course the barrier’s construction:

Were it anyone else’s project, state regulators would’ve required irrigation to ensure that plants grew. But the federal government is responsible for the $59 million effort to complete and reinforce 3.5 miles of border fence separating San Diego and Tijuana. The Department of Homeland Security exempted itself from eight federal laws and any related state laws that would have regulated the project’s environmental impacts.

The Voice goes on to report that state water regulators also have no jurisdiction over the project since it has been exempted from the federal Clean Water Act.

“They did better engineering in 8th century China,” said Joe Sharkey of The New York Times, whom I took on a tour of the border, about the massive amphitheater of dirt that DHS dumped in Smuggler’s Gulch a few miles from the Pacific.

 

The beach on the Pacific Ocean at the U.S.-Mex...

Image via Wikipedia

Ironically, while DHS has focused its efforts on the massive earthen and concrete wall, the ag

A small fence separates densely populated Tiju...

Image via Wikipedia

ency has virtually ignored the tidal wave of polluted sewage water and garbage that flows across this section of the U.S.-Mexico border, a problem that makes the very people charged with safeguarding our security – border patrol agents and even Navy Seals – often unable to carry out their mission.

Over the past 20 years, border patrol agents have become ill from contact with the region’s polluted rivers, as well as the Pacific Ocean. In the Calexico-Mexicali region, border patrol agents worked directly with the Calexico New River Committee to clean up the New River – a drainage canal turned toxic hot spot.

Navy Seals based in Coronado, California, about 10 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, train in an area of the ocean that is directly impacted by polluted water flowing across the border from Mexico, bypassing the vaunted concrete and metal border barrier.

The organization I run, WiLDCOAST, is now working with U.S. agencies such as the International Boundary and Water Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency along with agencies in Mexico (e.g., CONANGUA and the state of Baja California) to reduce the threats to our military personnel and federal employees as well as border residents from cross-boundary pollution.

This cooperation has required a significant investment on the part of both the Mexican and U.S. governments in developing real solutions to our environmental security crisis on the border. Unfortunately the massive Berlin Wall-style barrier on our southern border is of little assistance in this effort.

Solving complex transboundary issues sometimes requires ignoring the cacophony of politics from distant capitals and instead working on the ground with colleagues from both nations who are experts in their shared geography. It appears the Obama administration is now slowly trying to repair some of the damage done to local communities, the cross-boundary relationship with Mexico, and our fragile shared environment.

But much more work and investment is needed to safeguard those we entrust to protect our security along the borderlands, as well as the residents of the region, from pollution that ignores international divisions and concrete walls. We must remember not only the national security component of our border-strengthening efforts but also the effect on human and environmental security as well.

Saving Sea Turtles in Mexico

You don’t read that much about what is going on Mexico that is good. But I am lucky to have an incredible WiLDCOAST team in southern Mexico, Sergio and Natalia Flores, who are working to conserve sea turtle nesting beaches from the predations of poachers. The poachers steal the sea turtle eggs and sell them as a form of organic viagra.

Most of the nesting beaches are in the most conflict-ridden states of Mexico, Guerrero and Michoacan, so that doesn’t make stopping poaching easy.Oaxaca where a lot of nesting happens is not as prone to narco-violence.

These images are of the Guerrero State Eco-Police and olive ridley nesting in Ixtapilla, one of the more famous nesting beaches in Mexico.

Guerrero Eco-Cop protecting nesting sea turtle.

Eco-cops with poachers in Guerrero.

Olive ridley sea turtle in Ixtapilla, Mexico.

Kids helping to save sea turtle eggs in Ixtapilla.

Waves, Storms, Scientists and Surfers

Cover of "The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rog...

Cover via Amazon

My Southwest Surf column for November 24, 2010, published via Patch.com.

I got the inspiration for the Dempsey from the good times at the JR Longboard Surf Classic. It is a charitable event that supports youth athletics and education. The level of surfing is generally very high and in the past luminaries such as Nat Young and John Peck have also stopped by for a surf.

Laird Hamilton

Image via Wikipedia

With the unstable weather and lackluster surf, it is a good time to get in shape for future swells and read Susan Casey’s riveting new book, The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean. In the book, Casey documents her time following Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama and the rest of the Jaws crew on Maui.

Not only does Casey track storms and surfers around the world from Mavericks, Tahiti, Cortes Banks to Todos, but she also investigates the research on the increasing number of giant storms that produce ship-killing waves.

This is a book I could not put down and was as fascinated by the stories of surfing as well as the description of the research. The Wave is the perfect gift for any surfer.

Speaking of big waves, surfing legend Flippy Hoffman rode the Sloughs back in the 1950s and passed away recently. Local surf scribe John Elwell said, “Flippy was just an all around water man who tried everything. Had plenty of guts like Dempsey. A great character.”

Someone who also has plenty of character is world-renowned oceanographer Dr. Walter Munk of the Scripps Institute. A La Jolla resident, and the father of surf forecasting, Dr. Munk is a great friend of surfers.

Chuck Quisenberry and Professor Walter Munk. Photo: Chuck Quisenberry

Dr. Munk helped invent surf forecasting when he had to advise Allied Forces on the weather and surf conditions favorable for the D-Day invasion of Normandy during World War II. In 1963 Munk and John Tukey tracked a southern swell from New Zealand to Alaska. They were the first scientists ever to track a storm swell across an entire ocean.

I was at reception last week at the Faculty Club at UCSD and ran into Dr. Munk, along with longtime IB resident (and my parents’ neighbor) and UCSD Transportation Services Training Coordinator Chuck Quisenberry. Chuck was lucky enough to be Dr. Munk’s driver for the evening.

“I was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Munk,” Chuck said. “I was really in awe of him. He is amazing man. Some days at work are better than others.”

Since I am a surfer of average ability trying to ride shorter boards (6’6″ Novak quad), I have to workout to keep up with my surfing. And when the surf and weather are bad I head to the pool. So here’s a shout out to the morning swim crew at the Coronado Pool who keep me in shape.

As a former ocean lifeguard who worked in Imperial Beach and at Silver Strand State Beach, I enjoy swimming laps with Imperial Beach lifeguards Don Davis and Benny Holt, as well as my former Silver Strand colleagues Karlyn Pipes (visiting from Hawaii on her way back from Paris recently) and Randy Coutts.

I am also lucky to occasionally join current Silver Strand Lifeguard Captain Mike Martino, when he leads his crew through a rigorous workout. Mike is also the author of the very interesting Lifeguards of San Diego County, another great stocking stuffer.

By the way, after it rains you need to check in on the Tijuana River plume tracker or follow http://twitter.com/cleanwaternow for updated water quality reports.

Have a great Thanksgiving and see you at the JR.

Real Baja

There is something about the remote parts of the Baja California peninsula that remind us of what a wild coast is supposed to be. These images are by Zach Plopper from a recent trip we did to survey a national park in Baja California. Luckily we had a good tent to survive the harsh Santa Ana winds that hit.

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Serge Dedina dawn patrols remote Baja/Photo: Zach Plopper

WilLDCOAST Base camp in remote Baja/Photo: Zach Plopper

Baja campfire/Credit: Zach Plopper

El Hijo del Santo Fights for Cabo Pulmo

The Lucha Libre El Hijo del Santo appears in m...

Image via Wikipedia

In Mexico, there is no greater living legend than lucha libre star El Hijo del Santo.

In the ring he fights the bad guys.

In real life he saves the coast and ocean.

El Hijo del Santo has been the main spokesperson for WiLDCOAST for the past three years.

Wildcoast

Image via Wikipedia

And in our most serious fight, we have been trying to stop the Spanish resort developer Hansa Urban from destroying the fragile Cabo Pulmo coral reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Mexican National Park, from being obliterated by a giant new resort-city on the East Cape, on the park’s boundary.

So our team went to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup and unleashed El Santo.

Can you say GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Santo scored for Cabo Pulmo!!

Thanks Santo

Wild Sea is on Amazon!

It is really official when your book gets listed on Amazon.

You can pre-order Wild Sea from Amazon if you’d like or you can just wait until I come to a bookstore near you!!

I even have my own author page on Amazon that features my book, Saving the Gray Whale.

Very cool.

Barrels for Breakfast: Nado Version

Surfer

Image by MattGrommes via Flickr

My surfing column, Southwest Surf is now running in Coronado Patch. This is sligthtly different than the Imperial Beach Patch Version. This is from November 17, 2010.

Our south county coast does very well on peaky combo wind swells. That is
why the fall is my favorite season in Southern California.

Last Tuesday, Nov. 9, was a classic morning. The South Side of the Imperial
Beach pier finally came alive. There were also peaks from the pier to the
Boc’s to be had.

On Wednesday my two groms Israel and Daniel patrolled the South Side.

Israel, a freshman at Coronado High School, said, “Matt Wilson was running
into the water yelling, ‘Barrels for breakfast.'”

On that morning, Zach Plopper, Ben McCue and I crossed the border early and
surf checked the TJ-Ensenada coast.

We settled on San Miguel for a session with no crowd and 2- to-4-foot crystal clear
waves. Just like Baja Norte is supposed to be.

Early Saturday morning, Israel, and my youngest son, Daniel, a seventh grader at
Coronado Middle School, departed for Ventura with surf dad extraordinaire
Jason Stutz, and his son Jake.

Jason called me later in the day and said, “The boys surfed with Dane
Reynolds at Emma Wood. I told them that we could go home. It doesn’t get
any better than that.”

Daniel said, “Dane is super cool. He was shredding and almost landed a
backflip.”

It was great to see Nado shredder surfer Taylor Jensen ripping it up in the
new surfing DVD, Fresh Fruit for Rotten Vegetables. I love watching Taylor’s new school approach to longboarding.

On Sunday morning I checked the surf at dawn and was surprised to see waves
breaking at the Sloughs. Chris Patterson and I surfed the shorebreak alone
for awhile.

Speaking of the Sloughs, Phillip “Flippy” Hoffman, a North Shore and Sloughs
pioneer, passed away on Nov. 10. Flippy surfed the Sloughs with Dempsey
Holder and a crew of Coronado surfers, including John Elwell and Chuck Quinn.

“Flippy often came down to IB to surf the Sloughs with Dempsey when my
brother Jim and I were just starting out,” said Jeff Knox. “We were very
impressed by his ability and his impish humor. He was an absolute classic.”

Dempsey’s grandson, Nado resident John Holder, is serving in the Peace Corps
in the Dominican Republic. He writes, “Been busy travelling around a bit and
trying to get things done here on this crazy island. Finally settled into my
cottage so I can sit and write and think in peace.”

John will be home for holidays and is looking forward to some surfing
solitude south of the border.

A chapter about the Sloughs and its pioneering surfers, including Dempsey and
Walter and Flippy Hoffman, John Elwell and Chuck Quinn, among others, can be found in my new book, Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias, which will be out just before Christmas.

Don’t forget to register for the 28th Annual J.R. Memorial Longboard Surf
Classic on Saturday, Nov. 27, 7 a.m. at the Coronado Shores parking lot.
This classic event, sponsored by the Coronado Surfing Association, is one of
the highlights of the surf season and is a benefit for the CHS and CMS surf
teams.

And finally—best of luck to the Islander Water Polo team during the
challenging CIF tournament. I really enjoyed my first year as a Nado H20
Polo dad (Israel played on the Frosh/Soph team), especially talking surf
with fellow polo and surf dads Chris Carroll, Howie Frese and Steve Merrill
during the games this season.

See you in the water.

Serge Dedina is the executive director of WiLDCOAST and has surfed in IB and
Coronado since 1977.

Surfing Baja : Scorpion Bay

Of all the spots in Baja, there is probably no other more iconic break than southern Baja’s Scorpion Bay in the Pacific fishing village of San Juanico.

San Juanico has now become the Malibu of Baja. With three main points and a variety of even more reefs that break on select swells, there is plenty of surf here for the growing population of American expats (at times it feels like a surfer retirement village) and legions of visiting surfers.

Back in 2003, WiLDCOAST helped to stop a planned marina here that would have had a huge impact on surfing in the area–the main source of income besides fishing for the now fairly well off (by Baja Sur standards) community.

This summer, the boys and I took a close to 3,000 mile r/t tour of Pacific Baja and the East Cape. We had a lot of fun at our early summer stop at San Juanico.

The water was cold though–about 58-60–but there were virtually no crowds.

If you want to experience real Baja, avoid Scorpion Bay during the height of the summer south swell season. But for off-peak off season days it is a fun spot, especially if you have kids and a spouse that likes clean restrooms and hot showers.

Barrels for Breakfast Take 2

My Imperial Beach Patch surfing column from November 16, 2010.

I.B. does very well on peaky combo wind swells. That’s why the fall is my favorite season in Southern California.

Last Tuesday was a classic IB morning. The South Side finally came alive. There were also peaks from the pier to the Boc’s to be had.

I paddled out in the South Side channel just after 7 a.m. and greeted Todd and Tim Lang. Tim and I were second grade classmates at Berry Elementary. I shared the wedgy rights with Dave Thomas, Billy D., Ben McCue, Dave Parra, Dave Santos, Randy Putland and Zach Plopper among others.

On Wednesday the groms were out in the water at daybreak.

My son Israel said, “Matt Wilson was running into the water yelling, ‘Barrels for breakfast.'”

On that morning, Zach Plopper, Ben McCue and I left Imperial Beach early, crossed the border and surf checked the TJ-Ensenada coast.

We settled on San Miguel for a session with no crowds and 2-4 feet crystal clear waves. Just like Baja Norte is supposed to be.

Thursday morning IB offered up Santa Ana winds and 3-5 feet A-frames up and down the beach.

“The waves were typewriting,” said Billy D.

“I was there at about 6:30 a.m.,” said Alan Jackson. “I saw Terry and Josh on the south side and a few dolphins, but they were out a ways. It was so clear and beautiful that we could see the cross on Mt Soledad.”

With good waves come increased crowds at a few select sandbars. According to Andrew Pate, one way to maintain order in the water is to, “Never paddle out and swing into the first wave coming through when there are other surfers in the lineup.”

Early Saturday morning, my groms Israel and Daniel departed for Ventura with surf dad extraordinaire Jason Stutz and his son Jake.

Jason called me later in the day and said, “The boys surfed with Dane Reynolds at Emma Wood. I told them that we could go home. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Daniel said, “Dane is super cool. He was shredding and almost landed a backflip.”

On Sunday morning I checked the surf at dawn and was surprised to see waves breaking at the Sloughs. Chris Patterson and I surfed the shorebreak alone for a while.

Dave Thomas paddled out later in the morning.

“I got out at the Sloughs in the late morning just as the onshore winds started,” he said.

Dave is looking for someone to caravan to southern Baja with on December 26.

Speaking of the Sloughs, Phillip “Flippy” Hoffman, a North Shore and Sloughs pioneer, passed away on November 10.

“Flippy often came down to IB to surf the Sloughs with Dempsey when my brother Jim and I were just starting out,” said Jeff Knox. “We were very impressed by his ability and his impish humor. He was an absolute classic.”

Dempsey’s grandson and John Holder is in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. He writes, “Been busy travelling around a bit and trying to get things done here on this crazy island. Finally settled into my cottage so I can sit and write and think in peace.”

John will be home for holidays and is looking forward to some southern desert solitude.

A chapter about the Sloughs and its pioneering surfers including Dempsey and Walter and Flippy Hoffman among others are included in my new book, Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias, that will be out just before Christmas. Look for an IB book launch party in January.

Finally, I end with this quote from Zach Plopper, “Surfing for me means endless fun. There is nothing more fun than surfing.”

See you in the water.

Desal in Baja? Bad Deal for the Coast

Pacific Ocean Coast at Ensenada, Baja Californ...

Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday the San Diego Union Tribune reported on the potential development of four new desalination plants on the coast between Tijuana and Ensenada. From the article:

Now water managers are considering whether to build four desalination plants along the Pacific Ocean corridor that spans Rosarito Beach to Ensenada. Two of the proposals are binational ventures — one private, the other public — that would pipe a portion of the processed seawater to users in San Diego County.

The private project has been moving forward quickly in recent months as developers explore the possibility of a reverse-osmosis facility in Rosarito Beach with an initial capacity of 50 million gallons daily. That would be as large as the Poseidon plant scheduled for operations in Carlsbad.

For years, U.S. and Mexican water agencies have discussed the prospects of a binational desalination plant in Rosarito Beach, and the issue is gaining momentum as mounting supply demands and drought have strained the Colorado River.

To develop open coastal space in Baja California to fuel development in San Diego County (the Otay Water District would purchase some of the water) seems like a crazy scheme.

I write about the threat of desal in Baja and worldwide in my new book Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias:

Efforts to build these (desal) plants instead of investing in water conservation represents a new global threat to coastal and marine resources.

My travels in Victoria, Australia, during the summer of 2009, revealed that a planned desal plant on a pristine stretch of coast southeast of Melbourne, was one of the biggest environmental issues in all of Australia.

For Mexicans concerned about the current lack of public access to their coast, it must be troubling to think that their coastline will be used to fuel development in Southern California. Due to the significant issue of sewage polluted ocean water in and around Rosarito Beach, it is troubling to think that a company would suck polluted water out of the ocean, use huge amounts of fossil fuel burning energy to suck out the salt, and then send the water to San Diego County.

These new desal plans are proof that the Baja Boom is coming back to the Baja coast. And the future is very clear–Baja’s coast will be rapidly industrialized to fuel development for Southern California.

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