Bulldozers and Estuaries

On June 22, 1980, I learned that then Imperial Beach Mayor Brian Bilbray was planning on damming up the Tijuana Estuary. He argued that it was to be done to stop the flow of polluted water into the Pacific Ocean. I and others believed it was to be done to flood the Tijuana Estuary to demonstrate it was a garbage dump prior to a key referendum in Imperial Beach on placing a marina in the Tijuana Estuary.

So a few friends –Jack Burns, Tim Hannan, Jim and Jeff Knox, Richard Abrams, Dave Parra and Ben Holt–and I sat in front of the bulldozers.

We stopped the estuary from being dammed up, but Bilbray made his career out of his skiploader episode–ironically portrayed by the media as an environmentalist.

It was an ugly time. That incident followed a cleanup event I helped to organize in which a member of the Aryan Brotherhood shot a cleanup participant. I witnessed the shooting, which clearly had a racial tilt (the shooter yelled “Hey, ni..er get the hell out of here” to a man playing a guitar at the cleanup BBQ. And then he shot a man in the mouth who defended the guitar player).

Being an environmentalist back then wasn’t glamorous or even popular. Still when I look back on our effort which led to the permanent protection of the Tijuana Estuary, I am proud of the work we did.

Bilbray assaulted us with rocks and polluted water before ordering his flunkies to assault us.

Imperial Beach Lifeguard Ben Holt tries to stop his lifelong friend Brian Bilbray from destroying the Tijuana Estuary. Benny had known Brian since he was a kid. That is me watching.

Dave Parra tries to rescue me from the goons that assaulted me. I was punched in the face by a big guy. That is me on the bottom.

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Serge Dedina and Wild Sea on KPBS-These Days

On January 24th, I appeared on KBPS Radio’s These Days to discuss Wild Sea and a large sewage spill that impacted water quality in South San diego

CAVANAUGH: Which did the recent big sewage spill start in Mexico and why wasn’t it reported to U.S. authorities? I’m Maureen Cavanaugh, coming up on These Days, are there are many questions arising from the sewage pipe collapse in Tijuana. It spilled an estimates tens of thousands of gallons into the ocean and led to beach closures both in Tijuana and San Diego’s south bay. But beyond this incident, sewage spill res main a continual hazard for swimmers, surfers and coastal residents on both sides of the border. We’ll examine how effective our efforts have been to keep San Diego’s coastal waters clean. First ahead this hour on These Days. First the news.

I’m Maureen Cavanaugh and you’re listening to These Days on KPBS. San Diego County beaches got a belated and unwanted new year’s clever from Mexico. A massive sewage spill has fell beaches from pray playa de Tijuana to skeg’s south bay. One of the most disturbing features about this spill is that it apparently went unreported to American authorities for weeks. This morning, we’ll talk about where we stand in efforts to protect the quality of California’s coastline. Efforts have been under way for years to clean up the coast and coastal waters seven. Are they working? I’d like to introduce my guests, Serge Dedina is executive director of wild cost, and author of the new book, wild sea, eco wars and surf stories from the coast of a California. Serge, are good morning, welcome to These Days.

Serge, can you give us first of all, an update on where we are in this spill? First of all has the pipe been repaired? Has it topped.

DEDINA: Yeah, last night, I received an e-mail from a residence debt of playa de Tijuana, and he actually talked to the work crews working on really what is a block long sewage pipe break down, and apparently they’re putting a rubber — some rubber material 32 the existing pipe that’s about a block long. So he thinks it’ll take some time. Apparently some of the rains caused some of the erosion which caused the pipe diagonal. So hopefully those crews are working seven days a week to get that up. So we’ll see. Luckily the beach was open this morning in Imperial Beach, so that’s good news for surfers and beach users everywhere in the south bay.

CAVANAUGH: Now, why, if indeed the sewage pipe hasn’t necessarily been repaired yet, we don’t know, why is the beach open?

DEDINA: Well, unfortunately, imperial beach is a function of swell and wind conditions. So we had a beach closure notification last week and we could really smell the sewage precisely because we had a lot bit of a south swell, and a little bit of a south wind. And that pushes up from playa de Tijuana, the Tijuana River, and sometimes from six miles south of the boarder, and a sewage river called Punta Bandera, so that’s something that worries my team and I at wild coast, and we’ve really been working hard to deal with.

CAVANAUGH: So however north do the beach closures go.

DEDINA: Well, the beach closures were going as far as — really the north end of imperial beach, but that doesn’t mean it goes into the Coronado. Really, what happens, is there’s sewage moving so quickly that oftentimes county authorities don’t always catch the sewage when it hits the beach. But the county has been doing a great job along with my colleagues at wild coast at really documenting what’s happening, and really trying to be proactive about closing the beach as soon as we know about sewage contamination. But in this case, only, we didn’t know until — about a sewage spill until haft week that had been happening since December 23rdrd.

CAVANAUGH: So when did you first become aware that this sewage spill had occurred.

DEDINA: Well, last Tuesday — the surf has been really good. Surfers have known in San Diego for the last three weeks. And I got up really early in the morning, had my wet suit on, literally jumped out of my car with my board at 6:30 in the morning, and the stench of sewage was absolutely overpowering. This was about 6:30 in the morning. So I called my colleagues at wild coast Paloma, and Paloma actually went across the boarder and found the sewage spill, another environmentalist in Tijuana had known about it as well, but we immediately contacted the authorities and the San Diego media who really jumped on the for. The next day, Wednesday morning, when it appeared in the front page of the San Diego union, work crews had already started working Tijuana. We really got their attention.

CAVANAUGH: I want to remind our listeners that we’re inviting you to join this conversation at 1-888-895-5727. What is the best guess of when this sewage spill actually started?

DEDINA: Really, I think, from talking to residents, we’ve got a good YouTube video on our website at wild coast dot net, it sounds like it was before Christmas. From talking to different residents, what they’re saying is there’s a continual plethora of sewage pump station breakdowns in Playas. That really upon has a lot with the rape, you get these sewage stations, pump stations that are over loaded. So a lot of sewage flows into the ocean of that’s something that we expected. But you have to give credit to the city of Tijuana, over all, they have been doing a great job in improving their sewage collection system. But really these issues show there’s a lot of breakdown of communication, and really that’s why organization like wild coast and my colleague at San Diego coast keeper and people like Bruce exist because we know that it really isn’t a job of all notorieties this monitor the coastline, but it’s really our job to make sure they do their job, and we can all enjoy the ocean.

CAVANAUGH: And what’s the submit of how much sewage has actually spilled?

DEDINA: The city of Tijuana estimates it’s about a half a million gallons a day, other estimates came in at a million gallons. The bottom line is, whether it’s between half a million gallons and a million gallons a day, the video shows a large pipe spewing sewage right into the surf line which gets carried north very easily. It’s way too much. And probably over 30 million gallons since before Christmas, and ultimately, my kids and I and lots of other people in Imperial Beach and Coronado and south San Diego have been suffering in that. And one Kay I came out of the water, and actually my entire wet suit just stunk. So it’s naturalistic pretty, it’s not pleasant. But it’s something we need to work together on both sides of the boarder to really fix.

CAVANAUGH: We’re talking about this most recent sewage spill that fouled beaches in Tijuana and San Diego’s South Bay. Taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727 let’s take a call. Dave is calling from Ocean Beach. Good morning, Dave, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning. Thank you having me. I have a question for Serge, actually. Given the — given this recent spill south of the border, I’m wondering if you could clarify why wild coast was opposed to the Bahama project, which would have created up to 50 million gallons per day of sewage on the Mexican side of the border, which I think is twice the capacity of the international treatment plant on our side, which is the capacity of 25 MGD or so. And I’ll take my answer off the air. Thanks very much.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you, Dave. And of course the Bajagua plant was big news several years ago. A lot of debate about that. Perhaps can you give us a thumbnail version to bring our listeners up to speed?

DEDINA: Yeah, in my book, Wild Sea, I talked specifically about the Bajagua project. And really, it really isn’t about Bajagua. Bajagua consumed a lot of news. We argued it wasn’t a good cost effective way for U.S. taxpayers to fund work in Mexico. Since the Bajagua project was canceled, we’ve got a new border plant being built on the north side of the US/Mexico boarder, very and $10 million a piece. So it’s a much more cost effective way of dealing with this 11issue. And really I’ve learned a lot from Bruce, and I think Bruce and his colleagues at coast keeper have really argued in San Diego, you have to look at the big and small solutions to these issues. And wale when wee looking at this specific sewage spill, whether or not we have a sewage plant in eastern Tijuana or western Tijuana, this is a specific infrastructure breakdown, a pipe breakdown. Sewage plants don’t fix old pipes. And this where we’ve argued at wild coast in my book, wild sea, is that we’ve gotta think big and small, tackle the small problems that result in beach closures in IB, and some of the larger issues.

CAVANAUGH: Sure, yes: But some of these wounds are still there. I think we ail really need to come together and think about the big comprehensive solution to the border sewage issue. It’s gonna be a challenging one over the next couple decades. Just one quick last question about the Bajagua project, what I have heard from people, and I want to see if you b Serge, in if that plant had been in place, that this spill would have been as bad as it was. Do you agree?

DEDINA: Absolutely not. This was completely independent of sewage treatment plants, which was the an example of an old pipe that broke because of erosion and rain on a sort of a cliff near the ocean. Anybody who knows Playas of Tijuana knows that literally the entire slope is eroding downhill. And that was the argument we made, whether or not you have centralized sewage plants issue you’re gotta think big and small in Tijuana. A lot of these gullies that flow into the beach, sewage pump stations break down and specifically to tell you how you can address it at no cost, the Otay water strict, and thanks guy, donated a generator to the city of Tijuana to make sure that when pump cities break down, they can get the electricity on and keep pumping the station. I’m sorry. A blackout. So it’s not just spending five hundred million on a sewage plant, it’s thinking big and small, getting into the colonias, and really making sure these small spills don’t close beaches.

CAVANAUGH: And I just want too to make the point, my producer, Hank Crook, has told me that a sewage spill that closed a half mile of ocean beach shore line happened around Christmas time. It was caused by a flooded pump station in Santee, the sewage flowed down San Diego river out into the ocean at Dog Beach. So we still have spills on our side of the boarder as well.

DEDINA: Exactly. I think that’s why it’s important not to point fingers and say that Mexico’s western the United States or that we just gotta focus on these giant issues,  You upon, what are the comprehensive ways we need to do things? But also to make sure that every agency is doing their job, and more importantly that citizens and environmental groups, like coast keeper and wild coast, are out monitoring every day to make sure that people aren’t affected. And of course dogs at Ocean Beach aren’t affected by renegade sewage spills.

NEW SPEAKER: I work in La Jolla, and I work in plain view of the ocean, and I can say that a number of times in recent years, I’ve seen visually what’s sometimes referred to as the brown tide, meaning a sewage spill in Tijuana has washed up along the shore of the San Diego beaches. Including in La Jolla, La Jolla shores beach. I’m wondering — well, heme just preface my question with a comment that obviously we’re in a period of tight budgets and the — any solution that’s proposed is gonna cost money. So one of the issues you have to grapple with is how are you gonna raise funds to potentially come up with the money needed to technologically fix this problem in Tijuana. And I’m just wondering about the value to the San Diego tourism industry, better water quality. And whether you might think about tying a mechanism for improving water quality to some kind of tax or other fundraising on the tourism industry instead of trying to dip into already strained government budgets.

CAVANAUGH: Serge, any chance of a beach tax.

DEDINA: Well, I’m not sure that in Mexico that’s really the solution. But one of the things we talk about at wild coast, [CHECK] reframe the debate in Mexico so it’s not just about dirty beaches but about quality of life in Tijuana so that kids aren’t literally playing in sewage in if every colonia in Tijuana, and that really means supporting the Mexican government’s efforts to look for Japanese development funds, which they used to build three new sewage treatment plants, to go after north American bank funds, and then also to really tap people like senator Diane Feinstein who got about a hundred million to upgrade the sewage plant on the border to secondary treatment. So we’ve been really proactive at looking at a diverse source of funding, and really working proactively with Baja California and Tijuana officials and officials from Mexico City to really target the problem and come up with concrete solutions. And I have to get Tijuana credit. They’ve done a great job in moving forward in the last three years. [CHECK] by working proactively with Mexico and being really, really, I guess, entrepreneurial in how we identify multilateral funding, woo we can make a big step in dealing with this issue.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, good morning. I just wanted to make a comment how something that really frustrates me is that — when we get into these debates, whether it’s an oil spill or a sewage spill, I get really frustrated that it doesn’t seem that there’s enough emphasis placed on the fact that it’s our marine life or wildlife’s home. The conversation seems to always go right back to human impact only. And I feel that in people don’t really realize the delicate, you know, balance of life, and that we’re all part of a circle that I don’t know that there’s ever gonna be enough care to really take on these issues and say no and prioritize projects like this to get them done because it affects our earth, it affects our whole circle of life. So if you’d like to comment on, I’d like to hear what you have to say about that. Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Joan, thanks very much.

DEDINA: Well, you know, first of all, I love the ocean, I love wildlife, and that’s something I really talk about in my book, wild sea. But the fact is, whether or not I can surf with a beautiful pod of dolphins, [CHECK] any traction on the border sewage issue until we reframed the debate to really be about children’s health, whether there were children swimming in Tijuana, and more personal in the U.S., [CHECK] are boarder patrol agents who are getting sick from contact with polluted water, our friends in the U.S. Navy seals who had to stop training because they were getting so sick. So we really changed the debate. In fact my favorite person who’s been our biggest activist, is Dick Tynan, who’s a cowboy. And Dick and I, appear on TV together, he’s got a big cowboy hat, so cowboys and surfers and border parole agents and kids working together on both sides of the border talking about the impact on public health, and our friendly dolphins and leopard sharks is the only way we can really move this debate forward.

CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you though, when there is a big sewage spill, like the one we have contended with in the last few week, and there have been great surf, surfers wanting to go out and get in on that, I’m wondering, some surfers disregard beach closures, what kind of health risks are they actually putting themselves in danger of?

DEDINA: Well, at wild coast, we worked with Rick Gerzberg [CHECK] on the impacts of Oceanside pollution on public health, the study that we actually did with him showed that 75 percent of the people who come in contact with the Oceanside water in Imperial Beach every week have gotten sick. I know I just talked to one person who got really significant ear aches, I’ve been sent to the emergency room with ear infections of so the risks are really high. At least in south county, that you can really get sick. I think if extends on your own immune system. I know at coast keeper and with the county department of environmental health, you’re not gonna stop the idiots who want to surf in really polluted water, we real estate really Mike sure that a guy who’s just gotten back from Iraq, and wants to take his family to Beach in OB and IB, he doesn’t step in polluted water. There’s always going to be a group of hardcore surfers who actually seem to really thrive in surfing in polluted water.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, thanks for taking my call. I used to many years ago, friends of mine and I used to crack dawn before school and high school and go down to Baja, Malibu, Rosarito, the waves down there are as good as anywhere in the world. And I refuse to surf there now. It is — it has gotten so bad. And I’m really alarmed by the amount of development that’s gone on there. I mean, Donald Trump had some huge development going on there. I don’t know if it’s stopped in its tracks due to the economy. But there’s a lot of high rise development. And targeting, you know, U.S. people to buy a vacation, you know, retreat or whatever, weekend apartment or condo.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

NEW SPEAKER: And there’s just — I’m alarmed at the amount of development. And I wonder, you know, I can imagine what’s happening with the sewage from all these new resorts. I don’t think they’re pumping it back up the hill away from the beach. They’re all right on the cliff at the ocean.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. Let’s get a — Dave, let’s get a comment on that. And Serge?

DEDINA: Yeah, in my book, wild sea, I really talk about the whole Baja boom to Baja bust. Right now on the coast between Tijuana and Ensenada, I counted just republic 24 empty high rise buildings, Dave, and you’re absolutely right. It’s Baja Malibu, just north of Baja Malibu, there’s 30 million gallons of sewage discharged every day right on the beach, which has a huge impact [CHECK] Baja Malibu, which we all know is one of the big beach rigs on the planet. Some guys still surf there, and a lot of guys get really sick. But the plethora, [CHECK] Ensenada has had a significant impact on tourism, and frankly, some of the largest developers in Mexico aren’t doing what they should to really make that coast attractive to tourists. And that’s where I really — what developers and tourism officials called the gold coast has really turned into the ghost town coast. Because that coast is absolutely empty. [CHECK] and second, if you go to the beaches that are good for suffering, a lot of them like rosarita and Baja Malibu are super polluted. So that’s something that Mexican officials have started to look at. But really the private sector and the government need to work hand in hand with citizens to address that issue because people are just voting with their feet and not going to northern Baja because of the pollution and lack of public access.

CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you both, if I may, one aspect of this Christmas sewage spill that really, really has annoyed and, alarmed people and that is the fact that the American authorities aren’t notified of this sewage spill for weeks. And I’m wondering issue since people have been working on this kind of communication for years now, what broke down?

DEDINA: Well, I’m not sure what broke down. I think it was before Christmas of I’m not sure what happened in Tijuana. Maybe people didn’t alert the proper authorities of but as produce and I know, there’s always gonna be a problem with agencies and with governments. What Bruce and I at coast keeper and wild coast have worked on really for the most of our lives is the fact that you need the public sector or the public involved, you need citizens monitoring our beaches and coastline [CHECK] in suing people to make sure they do their job, changing our regulatory framework to make sure that we have better legislation and [CHECK] in place, these sewage spills aren’t happening and then alerting authorities. That the process broke down right before Christmas, a really busy time in Mexico for vacations. And so, you know, it was a step back. But I’m confident that by getting more citizen capacity in place in Tijuana and on the rest of the Mexican coast as well as in San Diego, we can make sure we prevent those spills or at least alert authorities the minute they happen.

NEW SPEAKER: I just wanted to add a couple comments on the notification aspect of beach water quality. And I thought one of the things that was coming up as a result of the spill down at the border at the end of 2010 was some type of an amendment to the IBWC discharge permits that would require notification to the health agency department of environmental health in San Diego during those events. And the second thing I wanted to bring up was when I was — before I left coast keeper, there was discussion with Doug Lyden at USEPA to extend public notification that’s shown on SD water sheds.org that would include enormous Baja beaches.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, clay, let me take that. I think you want to take that, Serge.

DEDINA: Yeah, specifically, clay, thanks for bringing that up. And what we found when we look at all these sewage spills is that agencies — it turns out that agencies that work on the boarders like the IBWC aren’t actually required to inform San Diego County agencies when sewage is discharged into the ocean. If it’s into the Tijuana river, they’re required by law to inform other agencies that this happens. And so we’ve gotta go back and get a minute put into U.S. treaty so that the IDWC can notify the county of san diego and the regional board, that’s a really great policy recommendation. Soap those are the really big and small things to really improve this stuff. But clay is actually the guy that really talked to me with the small things that go into creating beach closures in.

CAVANAUGH: And Serge Dedina, I want to mention that your new book, wild sea, eco wars and surf stories from the coast of the Californias, you’re gonna be reading from that at the Tijuana estuary this Saturday; is that right?

DEDINA: That’s right, from 6 to 8:00 PM, you can find out more information on wild sea book.com, or wild coast dot net. And I want to thank Bruce for his work [CHECK] drives the work that we do, making sure that all those little groms in the water and on the beach, and everybody there with their dogs, and everybody loves the beach and can continue doing that. Because that’s who makes San Diego San Diego.

Border Sewage Scandal Update

This is another sewage discharge into the ocean at Playas de Tijuana.

The main beach in Imperial Beach was open today.

In Tijuana, work crews are trying to fix the broken sewage pipe.

An update from a local resident:

  • I just went to the worksite and spoke with one of the workers. They will be pulling the new pipe through the current broken one today. The new pipe is a very thick, heavy rubber (sort of like a car tire) tube that will actually line the inside of the old pipe. They will be pulling about a city block length of the new pipe through the old. I can’t imagine it not getting snagged half way through. I bet there will be problems, but the fix is going in.

We will continue to monitor the situation.

The Sewage Pipe They Tried to Hide

Paloma Aguirre of Wildcoast went to Playas de Tijuana and filmed this:

The day after we contacted authorities and the media, work crews from Tijuana started fixing the pipe. It spewed up to 31 MGD since Dec. 23rd.

Sewage Scandal on the Border

On Tuesday morning (January 18) I detected a horrible stench at the south end of Seacoast Drive in Imperial Beach. I was in my wetsuit and ready to surf.

The stench has a peculiar odor that I associate with sewage spills at Playas de Tijuana.

So I contacted Paloma Aguirre of Wildcoast and asked her to investigate.

Here is what resulted from her work:

Massive sewage spill fouls Imperial Beach

By Sandra Dibble, UNION-TRIBUNE

Mike Lee, UNION-TRIBUNE

Originally published January 18, 2011 at 3:06 p.m., updated January 18, 2011 at 8:44 p.m.

 

Sewage spill

An estimated 1.3 million gallons a day of sewage are flowing into the ocean just south of the international border, in what will rank among the largest single incidents to affect San Diego County in the past decade.

The ongoing leak adds a potent pollutant to coastal waters that currents commonly push north into the United States, where they mix with contaminated flow from the Tijuana River, which has lead to beach closures in South County for the past month.

Estimates of the spill size vary greatly — from more than 30 million gallons by environmentalists to just a few million gallons by wastewater officials in Mexico. Either way, the situation provides a vivid reminder that despite numerous upgrades to the sewage system in Tijuana, it remains a chronic environmental and human health problem with roots going back more than 70 years.

Baja California’s top health authority on Tuesday closed the beaches near the leak at Playas de Tijuana as a precautionary measure. Surfers in South San Diego County said they were concerned about getting sick from the tainted water.

The break was about one mile south of the border in a pipe linked to a pump station that lifts sewage to the Punta Bandera treatment plant. The state’s health department said a pipe ruptured when the ground gave way after December’s rainstorms.

A central question is when the leak started. Baja wastewater officials said Tuesday the major problems started last weekend and they acted as quickly as possible to a situation that started small and blew up without warning.

Environmentalists in Mexico said major flows began before Christmas. They and their counterparts in the United States questioned whether Mexico acted fast enough to address the break and issue warnings.

“This is pretty serious and demonstrates a breakdown in communication” between Mexican and U.S. officials, said Serge Dedina, head of the environmental group Wildcoast in Imperial Beach. “This is precisely an issue we have been trying to deal with — just getting basic notifications on sewage spills in Tijuana. Authorities have placed thousands of people at risk.”

Officials initially believed the problem was an overflow that typically occurs during rainstorms when sewage and stormwater mix in overloaded pipes, said Agustin Rojas, spokesman for the CESPT, the acronym of the state public service commission of Tijuana.

He said the scope of the issue was not initially apparent because it involved an underground sinkhole that formed around Dec. 29 but did not immediately damage the 30-inch pipe.

“We believe it began to have problems, but the water wasn’t flowing to the ocean yet,” Rojas said.

On Sunday, he said, “We had not detected the magnitude of the problem. … It wasn’t until Monday.”

He said it would take another couple of days to stop the flow. The repairs involve replacing a 250-foot portion of the collector pipe that’s buried 15 feet below ground.

“We’ve got crews working long-hour shifts. It’s not an easy job, but they are committed to the task.”

Margarita Diaz, head of Probea, a Playas de Tijuana-based environmental organization, said the problems date back to Dec. 23.

“The collector was damaged, the ground collapsed, and it folded, and plugged it up. This caused the sewage to flow north toward the manholes. As it could not go to the pump station, it flowed through the drains.”

Diaz said the issue of the sewage overflows reached her office at the beginning of January, when local residents called and complained. When she called the CESPT, she said the common response was that the engineer was on vacation.

The Playas beach was closed Tuesday afternoon. “But this should have happened a long time ago,” she said. “It should have happened immediately, from the moment that the spill was detected. They were three weeks late.”

Mark McPherson, chief of land and water quality for San Diego County’s environmental health agency, said Tuesday afternoon that he had received no official notice of the incident. In this case, he said an alert would not have made a major difference because the Tijuana River is still flowing with millions of gallons a day of sewage-tainted water and the county has maintained beach closures for weeks in the South Bay because of that.

Dedina at Wildcoast said the problems at Playas de Tijuana likely are contributing to the mess caused by the Tijuana River.

“The stench at the south end of IB this morning was overpowering,” he said.

Conditions were worse south of the international border.

“I have been watching and smelling a stream of untreated sewage run down the street next to my house in Playas de Tijuana and to the ocean in a constant flow,” said resident Scott S. Peters. “The authorities have simply removed the manhole covers on my street and have been letting the sewage flow like a river since the storm a few weeks ago.”

Wastewater has been a major source of tension along the border since the early 1900s because Tijuana’s sewage system has not kept up with growth. Raw sewage flows into the Tijuana River whenever it rains. Agencies on both sides of the border have made big strides to cut down the pollution by building treatment plants and other facilities.

Wild Sea Excerpt: Waterman-Tales of the Tijuana Sloughs

This is an excerpt from my new book, Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias.

A small day at the Sloughs. Photo: Bill Gove

Beginning in the 1940s, when north swells closed out the coast, surfers from all over Southern California made the journey to a remote and desolate beach within spitting distance of the Mexican border. Before the Malibu, San Onofre, and Windansea gangs began to surf Makaha and the North Shore, they experienced the thrill and fear of big waves at the Tijuana Sloughs, just north of the U.S.-Mexico border in Imperial Beach.

Surfers interested in riding big waves would get a phone call late at night: “Surf’s up.” The next day, they would show up at the county lifeguard station at the end of Palm Avenue in Imperial Beach. Dempsey Holder, a tall and wiry lifeguard raised in the plains of West Texas, and the acknowledged “Dean of the Sloughs,” would greet them with a big smile. For Dempsey, the phone calls meant the difference between surfing alone and surfing in the company of the greatest watermen on the coast.

Dempsey's Sloughmobile Photo: John Elwell

Boards were quickly loaded into Dempsey’s Sloughmobile, a stripped down ’27 Chevy prototype dune buggy that contained a rack for boards and a seat for Dempsey. Everyone else hung on for dear life as they made their way through the sand dunes and nervously eyed the whitewater that hid winter waves that never closed out. The bigger the swell, the farther out it broke. Surfers not uncommonly found themselves wondering what the hell they were doing a mile from shore, scanning the horizon for the next set, praying they wouldn’t be caught inside, lose their boards, and have to swim in.

If you liked big waves and were a real waterman, you would paddle out with Dempsey. No one held it against you if you stayed on shore. Some guys surfed big waves, others didn’t. It was that simple.

Bill Hadji: When the winter storms came in, well, people know what it was like down there. The first thing they talked about was, “Let’s go down to the Sloughs.”

Mickey Muñoz: It’s some of the biggest waves on the coast. The outside surf break is pretty awesome.

Peter Cole:   The Sloughs had the biggest waves of any place in Southern California. It doesn’t have the jack-up of a place like Todos Santos or the North Shore, but it’s comparable to the outer reef breaks in Hawaii. It’s really an impressive wave.

Richard Abrams:   Way outside where eelgrass and kelp won’t grow, its just big boulders. It’s all in one pattern and it focuses the wave. The whole thing is just bending around and hitting cobbles that are way the hell out there. When you get inside, there are smaller cobbles with some bigger cobble, and some eelgrass. That whole river valley contributed to that break. All those cobbles

Dempsey Holder in Imperial Beach. Photo courtesy John Elwell.

Dempsey Holder:   I had told the guys up north about the surf down here. They were asking about it. One day I stopped at Dana Point on my way back from L.A. with a load of balsa wood to make surfboards. It was the biggest surf they had here in six years. They wanted me to compare it, and I told them, “Well, the backside of the waves were bigger than that, bigger than the frontsides.”

Wild Sea Book Trailer

Here is the video trailer for my book Wild Sea

Surfing in Sewage

 

Beach closure sign--a common sight in Imperial Beach, California.

Imperial Beach, California, my hometown is just north of the Tijuana River. When it rains and sometimes for weeks afterward, millions of gallons of sewage polluted water flows out of the rivermouth and into the ocean.

That makes Imperial Beach difficult to surf if you value clean water.

For the past six years WiLDCOAST has carried out a “Clean Water Now” campaign. The campaign has helped to get millions and millions of dollars allocated for the construction of new sewage treatment plants on both sides of the border.

Image via Wikipedia

That is good. But when it rains, the sewage pours. Our beach was closed between December 18 and January 5th. It was opened for one day yesterday and closed this morning (January 7th).

Yesterday I paddled out to take advantage of the clean NW groundswell. The water was fine. On the way in I smelled it–the odd detergent like smell of treated and or untreated sewage. It is specifically a sweet chemical weird smell.Around noon I paddled out again and did not notice any smells.

I notified County of San Diego authorities. This morning I paddled out again and once again got a whiff of that weird sewage odor. Bummer. Right afterward the beach closures signs were posted by the County of San Diego.

We use the Scripps Oceanography plume tracker to monitor ocean conditions and correlate sewage flow with the direction of the nearshore plume. The combination of a south wind and south to north current is a death sentence for surfing in IB.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography Plume Tracker for Tijuana RiverThis is arguably the world’s best tool for proactively managing ocean pollution. It requires water quality testing and field observations. But this plume tracker has helped us understand when pollution is hitting our beach.

And tomorrow I’ll be taking a pickup filled with groms to Trestles. That is why we campaigned so hard to “Save Trestles.” Because when the water is polluted we head north to clean waves and water!!!

 

Underwater Parks and the Tijuana Sloughs

Surfing the Sloughs 1967. Photo: Bill Gove

Underwater Parks Approved for Southern California Coast

Back in 1980 when I was 16 I sat in front of bulldozers and was beat up by thugs  to stop them from damming up the Tijuana river mouth and build a marina in the Tijuana Estuary.

But we won and 30 years later I surf the offshore reefs of the now Federally protected Estuary that are an MPA with my sons –and you can see waves breaking on cobble reefs that are now protected.

Serge Dedina and his son Israel surfing the Tijuana Sloughs, now protected as a Marine Protected Area.

It was only until the MPA process that this amazing reef—home to our resident pod of bottlenose dolphins and probably the most important leopard shark spawning site in So Cal– were officially recognized as a real ecosystem.

More recently we stopped a $75 million Army corps dredging project that would have destroyed the reef—and used its nomination as an MPA to justify our efforts.

Doing the right thing for the Ocean is always the right thing!!!

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Public News Service


Underwater Parks Created for Southern California

December 16, 2010
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The southern California coastline is getting some underwater protection. The state Fish and Game Commission voted late Wednesday to approve a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that will stretch from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border.

Marcela Gutierrez with Wildcoast says a variety of groups and the public have been working for two years on plans to create the underwater parks.

“This is a trailblazing effort. It’s one of the first of its kind in the world. The whole conservation community is watching, and it’s great for our coastal oceans going forward.”

Gutierrez says the MPAs ultimately will become fish nurseries that will benefit fishermen.

“They basically spill over, and then you have this phenomenon, which we’ve had already in the Channel Islands. People are already fishing the line because they know these are the areas where fish are more abundant.”

The compromise plan approved by the Fish and Game Commission will protect sea life and habitats at biodiversity hot spots, Gutierrez says, while leaving nearly 90 percent of the coast open for fishing.

Gutierrez points out that a healthy ocean and the recreational uses it supports are a major economic engine for California. According to a recent study, more than 90 percent of coastal recreation in southern California is non-consumptive, and the area generates $22 billion in revenue and more than 350,000 jobs each year.

KILLING BAJA

Five reasons the Baja we know and love will be gone in a decade — and what you can do to save it

Winter is here and just about everyone who lives for the long point waves of Baja believes in the Pristine Myth — the conviction that Baja will be empty, desolate and wild — forever. This delusion is at erroneous at best and dangerous at worst. The Baja California that drives us to live for that frenzied first round-the-bend glimpse of a pumping swell at a “secret” point we’ve surfed for the past quarter century is going fast and could disappear in ten years.

Here are five reasons why the Baja you love, the Baja you dream of, the Baja that makes you feel like a primeval surf explorer will no longer exist in a decade — unless you take action to save it:

cruise99ens14 Ensenada Coast, Baja California 1999

Image by CanadaGood via Flickr

Energy/Desal Development. In the past decade some of the world’s biggest energy companies — Sempra, Shell, Chevron-Texaco, and Marathon Oil — have either built or proposed the construction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals along Baja’s Pacific coast. And now California water companies are planning to build desal plants on the Baja’s coast, in order to purchase the water back. Makes sense? It doesn’t to me either.

Port Construction. Taiwanese investors are still planning a five billion dollar massive industrial, LNG and urban complex on one of the last pristine stretches of coastline between Ensenada and San Quintin at Cabo Colonet. This new port will be larger than the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles combined. The city associated with the Port will eventually rival Ensenada and will envelop every surf spot around Cuatros.

Marinas and Mega-Resorts. In 2003, John McCarthy, Mexico’s Chief of Tourism Development (FONATUR), announced plans to roll back a plan to build marinas at six point breaks on Baja’s Pacific coast including Scorpion Bay and Punta Abreojos.  While these projects have been cancelled, major resorts and marinas are also now on deck along the East Cape and now along the surf coast of Sinaloa.

The Baja Boom/Bust. With the detonation of the second home market in Baja and the availability of once previously locked off coastal property (due to previous inability of ejidos or collective agrarian cooperatives to sell land), the race is on to buy up and develop every speck of coastal Baja. Even though under Mexican law coastal access is a right, after all of this development occurs, entry to the coast for visiting surfers and local rippers will become almost impossible.

Tijuana River seen from a pedestrian bridge in...

Image via Wikipedia

Coastal Pollution. Runoff from the Tijuana River has made Imperial Beach, Coronado some of the most polluted surf breaks in California. Just north of Baja Malibu, a creek at San Antonio delivers about 30 million gallons of sewage to the coast every day, 365 days a year. Development around San Miguel sends sewage right into the lineup after it rains. Expect new coastal development to pollute your favorite wave in Baja.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Protect the Coast. You can protect the coastal property you own or plan to buy in Baja through a conservation easement — a dedicated legally valid document that prohibits your land from ever being developed into a mega-resort even after you sell it.

Leave No Trace. Pack it in and pack it out. There are no suitable landfills anywhere in Baja at all. The accumulation of plastic from cities and from surf spots is a major source of ocean pollution. Every surfer who visits Baja can make a difference just by packing out trash. Go to www.lnt.org and learn about how to save your favorite Baja break from being overrun with garbage.

Clean up the Tijuana River. WiLDCOAST and our community partners on both sides of the border have launched an effort to clean up the Tijuana River (yes it can be done) and reduce beach closures in Playas de Tijuana, Imperial Beach and Coronado. Email Benjamin@wildcoast.net to have your surf club or business endorse our Clean Water Action Plan.

Party at the Waterman’s Weekend. For the Surf Industry, the annual social calendar is capped by this summertime gala that provides a serious source of funding for organizations working to save Baja’s surf breaks.

So get a reality check. Get active. Just don’t pretend that the spot south of the border you live for with its once endless supply of crystal clean water and righteous wave is going to wait for you forever.

Originally published by Surfline


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