Coastal Flooding in Imperial Beach

The surf tripled in size on Saturday March 1st and by the end of the day was breaking out past the Imperial Beach Pier.

The surf tripled in size on Saturday March 1st and by the end of the day was breaking out past the Imperial Beach Pier.

On Saturday March 1, 2014, the surf from an unusual almost Hurricane like storm (in its appearance) battered the coast of Southern California. The surf went from 3-5′ on Saturday morning to more than 10-15′ on Saturday afternoon. High tides and surf that evening resulted in coastal flooding in Imperial Beach and up and down the California coast (especially in the Santa Barbara area).

A satellite image of the unusual storm.

A satellite image of the unusual storm.

 

Swell forecast for Imperial Beach.

In Imperial Beach this swell combined with high tides to create coastal flooding. Surf topped over the sand berm along the beachfront especially in the Cortez/Descanso area and at the Palm Avenue Jetty. On Saturday afternoon surf broke well past the Imperial Beach Pier and over a mile offshore on distant reefs.

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With high surf and high tides on the evening of March 1st, water came over the beach and into Seacoast Drive. Here is the end of Descanso Street the morning of March 2nd.

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The end of Seacoast Drive, March 2nd.

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The end of Encanto Street on March 2nd.

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Ocean Lane just north of Palm Avenune, March 2nd.

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Just north of Palm Avenue, March 2nd.

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The end of Palm Avenue, March 2nd. Flooding worsened here during the morning high tide of March 2nd.

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J Nichols on Why We Should Save Sea Turtles and Why Our Brains Need the Ocean

 

Marine biologist Dr. Wallace J. Nichols has worked tirelessly to preserve the world’s endangered sea turtles and raise awareness about our need to conserve our oceans. He just returned from a trip to Baja California’s Magdalena Bay, where he spent time in the field with fishermen who help preserve endangered sea turtles.

Through his BLUEMIND annual conferences he is helping us understand the role the ocean can play in our health and cognitive function. J. and I co-founded WiLDCOAST together in 1999. Today he is one of the the world’s most passionate and innovative ocean conservationists.

Dedina: In the past few years you’ve helped shed light on looking at connections between neuroscience and the ocean, which will be the subject of a new book you are writing. What are some of the insights you’ve gained into the new emerging field of neuroconservation?

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Nichols: Our successes in Baja with sea turtles, apart from the mountain of scientific ecological research, depends heavily on the emotional commitment to saving the animals among the many people working so hard along the coast.

It’s said that conservation is really about managing people and changing behaviors. If we don’t understand what’s happening in the human brain, we’re really in the dark. So the idea of studying neuroscience has been on my mind for a long time. In recent years we’ve connected the best neuroscientists in the world with the best ocean advocates and explorers to ask some very interesting questions about “our brains on ocean.”

If Coca-Cola can use neuroscience to sell sugar water, we can use neuroscience for the ocean.

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Dedina: You have your third BLUEMIND conference coming up. What is the purpose of the conference and why is it being held on the East Coast this year?

Nichols: Each year we hold BLUEMIND at a different location, with a slightly different general theme. This year the theme is “Last Child in the Water” and we’ll explore the role of water in healthy cognitive function. Holding the summit on Block Island makes it easy for our colleagues in New England to attend. We may jump the pond and take the conference to the UK in 2014.

Dedina: Why is the ocean so vital to human health and well being?

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Nichols: The list of biological, ecological and economic services that the ocean provides is long, and fairly well known. Oxygen, our climate, food, transportation and so on. But the “cognitive services” the ocean provides are just as important. For many of us the ocean, and other bodies of water, literally pulls the stress from us.

It’s a form of daily therapy. People go there to relax, re-create and vacation. Artists, musicians and writers go there to be inspired. I’ve met countless people who’ve told me that they do their best thinking when they are in, on or near water. Neuroscientists have shown that even the color blue doubles creativity and being seaside provokes an enhanced felling of well-being.

If we were to lose all of that, the world and our lives would be vastly diminished. I hope that when people learn about how healthy water makes them better at being themselves it gives them another reason to join the fight to protect our blue planet.

Serge Dedina: How did you get involved in carrying out research on sea turtles?

Wallace J. Nichols: I was into turtles as a kid. We used to catch snapping turtles in Chesapeake Bay, paint numbers on their shells and throw them back. Sometimes we’d recapture them and doing some simple algebra we’d estmate the number of turtles in the bay. Little did I know that 10 years later I’d be doing essentially the same thing with sea turtles for my doctoral thesis. My first sea turtle job was in Tortuguero, Costa Rica.

From there I worked with Jeff Seminoff to survey all of the sea turtle nesting beaches along Mexico’s vast coastline, driving a 1975 Toyota Land Cruiser. We then started to focus on northwest Mexico, especially the Baja Peninsula.

Dedina: You moved from studying sea turtles to advocating for their conservation? What happened that caused you to initiate your conservation
efforts?

Nichols: We’ve published a mountain of sea turtle science, literally hundreds of papers and reports in some of the best journals. But science doesn’t turn into action on its own. And back then there were no government agencies or NGOs to take our science and act on it.

Sea turtles were being killed by the thousands and it was clear that if we just continued to produce research papers, nothing would happen. Given the lack of official capacity to respond, we started by creating a grassroots network of fishermen interested in the plight of sea turtles. We called ourselves the Grupo Tortuguero. This year we celebrated the 15th anniversary of Grupo Tortuguero, which is now a robust network of thousands of people in 50 coastal communities and involving dozens of NGOs, managed by a strong team of Mexican scientists and advocates.

Dedina: Back in the early 1990s you tracked a loggerhead sea turtle from Baja to Japan? How did that come about and what eventually happened to the sea turtle?

Nichols: Fellow scientists were somewhat baffled by the presence of loggerheads along the Baja coast, since the closest nesting beach was all the way over in Japan. The status quo was that Japan was just too far away to be the source of the animals. In 1996, working with biologists Antonio and Bety Resendiz, we had the opportunity to put a satellite transmitter on a mature loggerhead. We named the turtle after the daughter of the fisherman who helped us and released her off the Pacific coast outside Santa Rosaliita, BC.

That turtle was ready to swim home, and home was due west, 7,000 miles away in Japan. We tracked Adelita for 365 days until she reached the Japanese coast. We did something that was radical at the time by sharing our data in real time, allowing millions of kids, teachers and researchers around the world to join the project. I guess you could say that built our own social network before there was such a thing.

When Adelita reached the Japanese coast, her track did several strange things. There are several viable ways to interpret the data from her final days, but it appears likely that she was caught in a squid net near Isohama, Japan and broght back to the dock, before the signal went dead.

Dedina: What are the primary threats to sea turtles and what can people do in their everyday lives to help in sea turtle conservation efforts?

Nichols: Sea turtles interact with our activities in more ways than people realize. They get hung up in our fishing gear, their beaches get developed for hotels, they swim through oil spills and they eat our plastic. Climate change is impacting the sex of sea turtles, their food sources and the dynamics of their nesting beaches. Virtually any move you make towards living more sustainably is good for sea turtles.
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Dedina: How can people help preserve the ocean?

Nichols: The first way is to touch it. Connect. Get wet often. Bring your family and those you love with you to the water. Consider your brain on ocean for a moment. If you enjoy and value the way your brain responds to a healthy ocean and you think it’s worth protecting, look around and ask questions and the next steps to becoming an ocean protector will become clear–and consider becoming one of the 100BlueAngels.org.

Ocean Water Quality 101: Or Why You Shouldn’t Surf After it Rains

Tijuana River sewage plume.

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.

Paloma Aguirre of WiLDCOAST in the Tijuana River Valley.

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?

Urban runoff in the Tijuana River Valley.

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.

Sewage pipe in the Tijuana that directs sewage into the Tijuana River Valley.

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.

Volunteers from YMCA Camp Surf clean up the beach at Border Field State Park.

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?

Cleaning up waste tires in Tijuana.

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.

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.

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...

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

A small fence separates densely populated Tiju...

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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.

Desal in Baja? Bad Deal for the Coast

Pacific Ocean Coast at Ensenada, Baja Californ...

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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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