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.

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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.

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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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Tijuana Sewage Solutions: Ecoparque

One of the great fallacies about dealing with untreated wastewater is that solutions require huge government investments in giant and expensive centralized sewage treatment plants. But not only is this not a solution in the cities of the developing world (because those plants can’t treat sewage for people who aren’t hooked up to the sewage line), but when those plants break down, there are major problems with sewage spills and then polluted waterways and beaches.

Tijuana has historically been unable to deal with its high volume of wastewater due to its rapid growth and difficult terrain. Tijuana has relied on the U.S. for must of its  wastewater treatment infrastructure. In the past 20-30 years Tijuana has built a series of small-scale treatment plants.

In the late 1980s, a group of conservationists in Mexico and the U.S. developed a small-scale decentralized project, Ecoparque, in eastern Tijuana that was designed to treat wastewater and reuse it for gardens, compost and even wetlands. The project was built and treats sewage from a nearby neighborhood, but because of the inability of agencies to think outside the box beyond giant projects, more Ecoparques were not built.

I recently toured the Ecoparque facility in Tijuana. It is being upgraded and expanded by COLEF in Tijuana and has the potential to serve as a great model for other low-cost and simple wastewater treatment projects that can provide much needed water for community gardens, wetlands, native plant restoration projects, and native plant nurseries. Additionally it can provide low-cost compost for all of these activities. Back in 1987 or 1988 I volunteered for a day on the construction of Ecoparque. I had also volunteered for the construction of the first module that was tested in the Tijuana River Valley on the U.S. side.

At the end of the day, the current model of mid to large treatment plants is not a solution. They are too expensive and too centralized. Projects like Ecoparque should be the future. After all, not a single drop of wastewater, especially in our climate and with this drought, should ever reach the ocean.

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The primary sewage treatment module at Ecoparque. Sewage gravity flows from an uphill neighborhood.

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Future wetlands.

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A cool design for a future plant nursery.

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Native plant garden.

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Vermiculture facility.

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Creating compost.

 

Tijuana Art Walk

TJartwalkArtists, musicians and the TJ hipster scene have two little alleyways  in Tijuana, or Pasajes (Gomez and Rodriguez), that provide an an alternative to the grinding old school tourist scene of Tijuana’s Avenida Revolucion. On Saturday September 14th, Pasaje Gomez (between 3rd and 4th on Revolucion on the East side of the street) was the location of Tijuana Art Walk.

The Pasaje’s in theory are open Friday and Saturday afternoon and evenings, but hours appear to be random. But if you are on Revolucion it is worth a shot.

The entrance to Pasaje Gomez from Revolucion.

The entrance to Pasaje Gomez from Revolucion.

We arrived in mid-afternoon and artists, restaurants, and retro vendors hawked their wares. Everyone was very friendly despite the fact that there were very few artists or original art. The scene reminded me of Tijuana’s punk scene in the 80s headed by Luis Guerena and his friend Omar that centered around Luis’s tiny apartment nearby to the current Pasaje’s.

You have to admire the energy and desire of Tijuana residents to create new things in the face of overwhelming obstacles. I’m a big believer in the capacity of art to bring new life to cities and urban spaces. If only local authorities did more to support alternatives to what is a moribund tourism industry in Tijuana.

The thriving gastronomic scene is one example of a new tourist alternative, but cleaning up the city and replacing ugly graffiti that mars streetscapes throughout the city with more murals, would be a start.

As always change in Tijuana is bottom up and grassroots. But I guess that is the point.

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These kids run a design studio called Rusty Nails Productions.

These kids run a design studio called Rusty Nails Productions.

Street Art in Tijuana: Avenida Revolucion and Pasaje Rodriguez

Artists and restauranteurs are trying to bring Tijuana back. It is not an easy task. The once proud Avenida Revolucion, the heart and soul of touristy Tijuana is struggling to stay alive. Artists have inhabited former curio “pasajes” or passages. Pasaje Rodriguez near the corner of Revolucion and Third is one of them. Pasaje Rodriguez has cool little boutiques and galleries. Unfortunately most were closed when I was there on a Sunday afternoon. Best to return on a Friday or Saturday evenings. I will be back. Be sure to visit and eat at Javier Plascencia’s amazing newly renovated Caesar’s Restaurant on Revolucion–great food and very cool historic bistro atmosphere.

A mural in Pasaje Rodriguez.

A mural in Pasaje Rodriguez.

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Mural in Pasaje Rodriguez.

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Mural in Pasaje Rodriguez.

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The sheriff of Pasaje Rodriguez–I’m not sure what and don’t ask…

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Mural in Pasaje Rodriguez.

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Mural in Pasaje Rodriguez.

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A more traditional style historic mural.

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On Avenida Revolucion

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On Avenida Revolucion–this type of art can remake a city. It will take a lot more to bring Tijuana back. Art can heal and bring people together and demonstrate that “forgotten” corners of a city are not at all forgotten.

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I love this.

Ended our excursion with a light lunch at the newly renovated Caesars's Restaurant on Avenida Revolucion, now run by Javier Plasencia and his brothers.

Ended our excursion with a light lunch at the newly renovated Caesars’s Restaurant on Avenida Revolucion, now run by Javier Plasencia and his brothers.

WiLDCOAST and Nortec Collective Hiperboreal Fight Plastic to Save the Sea

One of the most important things we can do as we see the impact of globalization on the state of our oceans is to communicate the solutions to our problems as broadly as possible. At WiLDCOAST we’ve focused on communicating the values of coastal and marine conservation in Spanish.

Anyone who travels the coast of Mexico and throughout Latin America will see first-hand the tsunami of plastic bags, bottles and styrofoam that litter beaches, estuaries and rivers. So we partnered with Tijuana’s musical innovators Nortec Collective: Hiperboreal to spread the word on the cleaning up our coast and ocean and why it is important to reduce, reuse and recycle plastic. Tijuana’s Galatea Audiovisual media collective filmed the video in the Tijuana River Valley, Imperial Beach, Playas de Tijuana and at the recent Baja Bash.

Thanks to the support of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, here’s our newest plastic-free ocean PSA:

Paddling from Trestles to Tijuana

Last day of the paddle at the Silver Strand State Beach in Coronado.

One of the most important tools for evaluating the state of our coast, is to carry out a transect from top to bottom. Two San Diego County coastal advocates and surfers, Shannon Switzer and Kristian Anders Gustavson, recently organized and led a seven day padding expedition from Trestles to Tijuana to get a better sense of the challenges we face in protecting our greatest natural resource.

Shannon, 28, is a National Geographic Young Explorer and 2012 Freshwater Hero.

Shannon Switzer

Kristian, 27, is the Director of Research & Explorations for Below the Surface, was named one of Outside Magazine’s Chief Inspiration Officers for 2012 and ‘Hero of the Heartland’ from the American Red Cross.

I caught up with them last week as they finished their paddle in Imperial Beach just north of the new Tijuana River Mouth Marine Protected Area.

Kristian on a break after 40 miles.

Serge: You recently paddled from Trestles to the U.S.-Mexico border. What was the purpose of the paddle?

Kristian Anders Gustavson: This paddle was the first annual event to celebrate the anniversary of Below to Surface, which was founded in the summer of 2008. Trestles to TJ was meant to draw attention to the impact of riverine water pollution on the coastline, and is the official launch of the Riverview Mobile App which is part of Below the Surface’s Riverview Project, or “Google’s Streetview for Rivers.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has worked closely with Below the Surface to develop the Riverview Mobile App, particularly to include information about the health of waterways for spurring grassroots stewardship of our rivers, lakes and coastal waters.

Shannon Switzer: I envisioned this paddle as an up close and personal way to see our coast in one connected piece, rather than in snippets, which is how I usually view it. I wanted to show the San Diego community that this connectivity means all of our actions, both on land and at sea, have a direct impact on the coastline and motivate people to do their part in caring for the beaches we all love and enjoy.

Serge: What were your favorite parts of the paddle and coastline?

Paddling on the sixth day offshore from Coronado. Photo: Eddie Kisfaludy/Oceans Aloft

Shannon and Kristian: Paddling along Camp Pendleton was a treat. So was paddling Sunset Cliffs, through the kelp forests just offshore, and coming around Point Loma to see downtown San Diego and the Coronado Bridge along the horizon. That was pretty epic.

Serge: Why was it necessary to highlight the conditions of our coast above and below surface?

Shannon and Kristian: Everything in the environment is linked together, and an action like dumping old household cleaning supplies down the drain at home can have a negative impact on both people and wildlife in the ocean. Because of our unique location on the coast, we have a responsibility to be aware of these connections and to modify our behavior accordingly.

Serge: How many people participated in the Paddle at the start, how many finished and what were the unique challenges that you faced logistically and paddle wise?

Shannon and Kristian: The first day we began with about 15 paddlers, by the end of the week we had about eight. This was because we started on the weekend, when more people were available, and then continued through the work week. Also, our first day was our longest at 20 miles, which I think weeded out a few paddlers. Logistically it was tricky getting all the boards and paddlers together in the right place each day.

15 paddlers from a variety of organizations including Below the Surface, the SUP Spot, the Mission Continues, National Geographic Young Explorers, the Eco Warrior Project, SUP Core, Expedition 1000, Red I Nation, Namaste SUP and endurance athlete Ryan Levinson came coming together for this inaugural event.

Serge: Were any parts of the coastline distressing in terms of pollution and or other human impacts?

Shannon and Kristian: We were happily surprised with the condition of our coastline. The most heartbreaking thing to me was all of the trash in the water. Every hundred yards or so we would find plastic shopping bags, water bottles, balloons, etc. It is frustrating to see something that is so easily prevented. The only specific stretch of coastline that was distressing was at the sewage outfall near Point Loma.

Serge: What were some of the wildlife species that your team spotted. Were you surprised to see so many animals off of our coast?

Shannon and Kristian: We saw heaps of wildlife: seals, sea lions, porpoises, bottle nose dolphins, a shark or two, garibaldi, tons of jellyfish, marine birds. We weren’t surprised by the number of species we encountered, because we see a lot of this marine life while surfing, but it’s always a thrill when wildlife pays a visit. The average visitor or tourist may be surprised to see how truly wild it is off San Diego’s shores.

At the finish in Imperial Beach at the Tijuana Rivermouth Marine Protected Area.

Serge: From the vantage point just offshore, does it seem to make the problems that we face coast-wise less challenging or more challenging?

Shannon and Kristian: Seeing the immensity of the coastline from offshore on a little board definitely puts things into perspective. It didn’t make coastal problems seem more or less challenging, but rather confirmed the need to continue moving forward with policies and personal practices that will benefit our coast and the San Diego community too.

Surf and Turf: The Baja Renaissance

Javier Plascencia of Mision 19.

“Last week I surfed K-38’s,” said Javier Plascencia, the chef and proprietor of Tijuana’s Mision 19. “But the surf was pretty bad.”

Plascencia is from Tijuana, attended high school in Chula Vista, and grew up surfing in Imperial Beach, OB and his home breaks in Baja.

The rock-star handsome Tijuana surfer, along with fellows chefs such as Diego Hernandez of Corazon de Tierra, Benito Molina and Solange Muris of Manzanilla, and brothers Javier Martinez of Boules and David Martinez Muelle 3 in Ensenada are leading a gastronomic revolution and Baja Renaissance that is bringing the endemic and earthy colors, tastes and textures of Baja’s land and sea into our palates and hearts.

“Baja is undergoing a virtual renaissance now with a renewed interest in the region’s gastronomy, culture, eco-adventures, lifestyle and unique accommodations,” said Jim Pickell, CEO and founder of Baja.com, a Baja-based company dedicated to helping travelers enjoy an authentic Baja California experience.

This new renaissance and revival of the authentic in Baja is an important and much needed antidote to the ongoing doom and gloom reporting on Mexico that has convinced many Baja fanatics to stay away from their favorite home away from home.

But due to the amazing things happening in the kitchens of these chefs and the still heartbreaking beauty of Baja’s wilderness landscapes and coastal treasures, there has never been a better time to head south across the border.

My first trip across the border was in 1967, when I was three. My mother, an English immigrant, and I joined our Los Angeles neighbors, a Mexican-American family, on weekend trips to Ensenada, where we rode horses on uncluttered beaches.

Later we traveled to San Felipe with my Aunt Jill and Uncle Emile who were visiting from Switzerland. There we reveled in the fresh fish, unfiltered kindness of local fishing families, the endless beauty of the Gulf of California and the towering peaks of the Sierra San Pedro Martir.

That me on the right with my brother Nicky, my mother, and my Uncle Emile in San Felipe either in 1972 or 1973.

After I started surfing at the age of 13 in 1977, I frequently traveled south of the border to surf the coastline between Tijuana and Ensenada. Those quick trips turned into longer expeditions with my father and friends to central Pacific Baja in a beat-up olive green 1964 six-volt Volkswagen van.

We found friendly fishermen, pristine beaches and surfed perfect waves.

In the 1990s my wife Emiy and I spent two years in the remote coastal lagoons of southern Baja to carry out our dissertation research on gray whales and fisheries management.

During those two years, besides the perfect waves I surfed and the incredible encounters Emily and I had with gray whales, sea turtles, sea lions, osprey and sharks, some of the best expeiences I had were sharing freshly harvested seafood with ourfishermen friends and their families.

In San Ignacio Lagoon, Maria Luisa, a fisherman’s wife and daughter, would lead me and my wife on low-tide searches for pulpo, or octopus. These elusive creatures hid in the empty shells of callo de hacha, or hatchet clams. Maria Luisa would use a gancho, or metal hook, to pry the shells out of the tidal flats and then open up the shells to occasionally reveal an octopus hiding in a shell.

A couple of hours later she would serve us up ceviche de pulpo in the dining room of her plywood house on the shore of the lagoon accompanied by a cold Pacifico.

I thought of those meals when I sat down with Plascencia last week at Mision 19 in Tijuana’s modern Zona Rio district and ate grilled pulpo with pistachio and garbanzo. The complex and satisfying dish was a direct connection to Maria Luisa’s pulpo ceviche.

Sashimi is one of the other signature dishes in northern Baja that is offered up at Manzanilla, Muelle 3 and Boules.

“The only time I had eaten sashimi in Baja,” I told Javier, “was with the fishermen of Punta Abreojos.”

Years ago after being hit by an obnoxious mantaraya or stingray, I savored fresh yellowtail sashimi while sitting under a ramshackle fish shack in Estero Coyote, a mangrove lagoon midway between San Ignacio Lagoon and the rocky points of Abreojos.

My fishermen friends Javier, Isidro and Miguel plied me with cold cerveza that combined with delicacy and sabor of the sashimi, dulled the acute pain of the stingray barb.

For the Baja fans who long to return across the border, you can no longer afford to miss out on the experience offered up by these chefs and the great waves in Baja.

But if you need to quickly experience the sabor of the Baja Renaissance, you can catch, Javier, Diego, Solange and Benito at the Baja Bash on June 2nd at the Harbor Pavilion on San Diego Bay. There these master chefs will offer up the best of their innovative cuisine to the background of Tijuana’s genre busting musical innovators Nortect Collective: Hiperboreal.

You can’t afford to miss out on the new taste of Baja.

Dazzled by Mision 19 in Tijuana

The foodie world exploded when the New Yorker published a seminal piece on Tijuana‘s master chef Javier Plascencia and his new temple of gastronomy Mision 19. Additional rave reviews followed an another important article in the New York Times. Javier grew up on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, is a surfer and has done a lot to help revolutionize the image of Tijuana and Baja. Along with Diego Hernandez of Corazon de Tierra in the Guadalupe Valley, Benito Molina and Solange Muris of Manzanilla in Ensenada and Javier and David Martinez of Boules and Muelle 3 in Ensenada have really helped to bring about a food revolution in Baja and Mexico.

Javier Plascencia, who told the New York Times, “I am proud of being from Tijuana.”

Since Javier has kindly agreed to be one of the featured chef’s at the WiLDCOAST BAJA BASH on June 2nd (along with Molina, Muris and Hernandez and music by Nortec Collective-Hiperboreal), I paid him a long overdue visit at his temple of food in Tijuana’s Zona Rio district. Buy your tickets now and get them here.

Let’s just say it was on of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. Javier is super gracious and obviously a genius at taking the authentic food of Baja and Mexico and creating a new, unique and brilliant cuisine that is nothing like I’ve eaten before.

I started off the meal with a nopal salad. Delicioso!!

Octopus with pistachio and garbanzo. I love pulpo and this was grilled and incredible.

After an amazing vegetable soup, I dug into my main course, fresh tuna.

Coyotas with cafe granizado and dulce de leche ice-cream.

Mision 19 is located in the Via Corporativo bulding on Mision de San Javier 10643, Zona Rio, Tijuana. Don’t wait to go there.

Fixing Problems Along the U.S.-Mexico Border

The Hormiguita Community Center. This building was made from recycled tires.

I spent the afternoon with Paloma Aguirre of WiLDCOAST and the executive team of San Diego Coastkeeper. We took a tour of the border to get a sense of what some of the issues we are dealing with and ended the day in Los Laureles Canyon in Tijuana, just south of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Community members were buys fixing up the Center.

There Steven Wright and his team from 4-Walls International are working with WiLDCOAST, Tijuana Calidad de Vida and the community to develop a demonstration project on how to use waste tires for construction. They also have a native plant garden and are working on cleaning up their community.

They are using recycled tires and have a rain water catchment system.

The community project is an oasis of hope in the border region and is an inspiring place to be.

Ingenious.

They have a native plant nursery supported by Mexico's Environment Agency.

San Diego Coastkeeper Board member Jo Brooks, SDCK Executive Director Gale Filter and Steven Wright of 4-Walls.

No matter where you are in Mexico there is always a dog that needs to be petted. This scruffy mutt found a hole in the fence and was begging for some love!

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.

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