Trash ,Tires and Sediment in the Tijuana River

If the multiplicity of agencies working along the U.S.-Mexico border from both the U.S. and Mexico did their job, there would be little trash, sediment and waste tires in the Tijuana River. Unfortunately most look the other way until they are pressured to clean things up. Now WILDCOAST is pressuring agencies to clean up the river before winter or more unusual summer rains happen.

A pedestrian bridge made from waste-tires in the Tijuana River in Tijuana.

A pedestrian bridge made from waste-tires in the Tijuana River in Tijuana.

tjrivertrashdediment1

The Tijuana River in Tijuana just next to City Hall. There are thousands of “Zombies” or homeless men and women (mostly men) living in the river which authorities in Tijuana have shown little effort in dealing with (many were deported from the U.S.). Besides the social and crime problems as a result, the trash that is accumulating is awful. Many of the men wash in the sewage waters of the river. The minute it rains all of this will be washed downstream.

trashsedimenttjriver

More garbage and sediment in the Tijuana River just upstream from the international border line. This scene is repeated throughout the river and its watershed. One solution would be to hire the mostly homeless “Zombies” to clean up the river and Tijuana. That would be much cheaper than letting the trash and garbage wash across the river on the other side of the border in the U.S.

 

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Surfing the Day After the Storm

Normally you are not supposed to surf within 72 hours of rainfall hitting southern California. Runoff from storm drains, streets and everything else washes into the ocean. But the Silver Strand State Beach in Coronado, just up the beach from where we live in Imperial Beach, is almost free of development. There is no runoff to speak of, since the parking lots drain east toward the bay. Unless the sewage plume from the Tijuana River travels north, the Silver Strand can be a good bet.

Most of the time the Strand is a horrible place to surf. The waves are almost always closed out. I worked as a lifeguard there for eight years and rarely saw it good. But with the rain and storm swell that hit Southern California yesterday, the waves at the Strand were a little broken up this morning and the groms scored some fun corners that were helped out by an offshore wind.

Environment and Hope on the U.S.-Mexico Border

Jared Blumenfeld of the EPA inspects a trash pile in the Tijuana River Valley with reporters from Uniivision-San Diego.

Yesterday my Wildcoast colleagues Ben McCue, Paloma Aguirre and I took a tour of the Tijuana River Valley and Los Laureles Canyon in Tijuana with Regional EPA administrator Jared Blumenfeld. I’ve known Jared since the 1990’s when he ran IFAW‘s San Ignacio Lagoon Campaign. He is a very smart guy who is very adept at getting things done.

Tijuana Estuary's Oscar Romo and a City of Tijuana official in Los Laureles.

The tour was reported on in the San Diego Union-Tribune. Our tour included a site visit to a Community Center Wildcoast has partnered with 4 Walls International, Tijuana Calidad de Vida and the Tijuana Estuary on developing with the Las Hormiguitas Community Group. The  point of the project is to use trash as a building material and then train residents on how to manage trash and human waste.
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.

My colleagues from Tijuana Calidad de Vida and 4 Walls at the Las Hormiguitas Community Center in Los Laureles.

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.

This is the community center. 4 Walls built it using waste tires they found discarded in the canyons in Tijuana.

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.”

There is also a native plant nursery and vegetable greenhouse, proof that despite abject poverty, signs of hope can be found.

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.”

The conditions in Los Laureles are shockingly dismal--sewage in the streets, garbage and graffiti everwhere and substandard homes and plywood shacks. But hope for the future is important and is what drives people to continually improve their homes and communities.

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.

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!!!

 

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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