Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tijuana River Valley residents prepare for second storm

Click here to see the video

Friday, December 18, 2009

Solving border pollution woes

Along the U.S.-Mexico border, in the aftermath of the recent massive rainstorm that hit Southern California, is the debris trail — used tires, plastic bottles, plywood, and discarded dolls. It starts in the canyons of Tijuana and ends up along U.S. beaches from Imperial Beach to Coronado, and on the ocean floor. There is no other outlet along the Pacific Coast of North America that sends more plastic, sewage and urban refuse into the ocean than the Tijuana River during a rainstorm.

Thanks to the foresight and advanced planning of agencies working along the border, there has never been a greater effort to reduce the amount of sewage and garbage flowing into the Tijuana River Valley and into the Pacific Ocean. Much more still needs to be done, however, to finally put an end to the devastating flooding and cross-border pollution that plagues the communities and beaches of South County.

A recently dug city of San Diego pilot channel saved ranchers in the Tijuana River Valley from being hit by mudslides caused by the Department of Homeland Security’s massive earthen border barrier. Mayor Jerry Sanders and Councilman Ben Hueso had the foresight to secure emergency permits to save valley homes, farms and ranches from the damage associated with the inexpert earthen border barrier engineering.

One of the growing problems that plagues the Tijuana River Valley after it rains is the glut of thousands of used tires that wash across the border. These tires are imported into Mexico from California by the millions each year. The recent signing of SB-167, sponsored by State Sen. Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, and signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will permit the state of California to begin to work with Mexican agencies to develop cost-effective solutions to halt the tidal wave of tires that clogs sewage collector systems, recreational areas, sensitive wetland habitat and eventually ends up in the ocean.

Under the leadership of recently retired Regional Water Board chief John Robertus, the Tijuana River Valley Recovery Team has brought together the multiple government agencies that oversee the valley. Under the recovery team, for the first time these agencies have developed a joint work plan in tune with the needs of South County residents to clean up and restore the Tijuana River Valley. At a recent workshop during a “Green Borders Conference” held at the Tijuana Estuary Visitor’s Center, task force members and University of San Diego staff led an effort to bring residents and government officials from both sides of the border together to make the much needed planning effort one that is truly binational.

There is still much to do. U.S. agencies should support the efforts of the city of Tijuana and the state of Baja California Norte to expand their new system of low-cost sewage treatment and water reclamation plants. At a cost of between $10-15 million each, these plants represent the best hope for stopping the flow of wastewater across the border and into the ocean. Additionally the International Boundary and Water Commission and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can help Mexico finance efforts to permanently stop the flow of treated sewage into the ocean at the San Antonio de los Buenos site six miles south of the border. That wastewater way makes its way north to Imperial Beach during the spring and summer south-swell and south-wind season.

Ultimately, agencies and elected officials will have to be even more creative and visionary if we are to solve the most pressing environmental problem in California and along the entire U. S-Mexico border. They should look north to efforts in Los Angeles to make the concrete and garbage-laden Los Angeles River more of a natural waterway. Cross-border engineers need to apply a resource conservation ethic to managing the Tijuana River watershed. The concrete Tijuana River in Mexico should be restored into a revitalized urban green space and waterway that integrates the need for flood control, pollution reduction and creating more desperately needed recreational space for Tijuana residents.

After all, on a sunny morning before winter rains hit, there is no more stunning location in San Diego County than the mouth of the Tijuana River. The river mouth is where I often surf beautiful waves with my two sons, lifelong friends, leopard sharks and a resident pod of bottlenose dolphins. That piece of our wild coastline, and the watershed that gives it life, are surely worth restoring and preserving to benefit generations to come in both Mexico and the United States.

By Serge Dedina

Farmers, ranchers assess damage after rains

— As the Tijuana River Valley dries out during a respite from two late-fall storms, city officials and border-area farmers and ranchers are assessing the damage.

Last weekend’s storm added to the pools of water, mud and debris in the river valley lingering from a Dec. 7 storm. That downpour was one of San Diego’s heaviest in years, dropping record-setting amounts of rain throughout the county. Fortunately, it wasn’t a repeat of last December’s devastating flooding from moderate rain that resulted in ruined crops, hay, equipment and the deaths of livestock.

Most people escaped without much damage from the most recent storms and said it could have been worse. They credited the city of San Diego for clearing trash and vegetation from clogged flood-control channels and preventing a repeat of last year. City crews also dredged sediment, which flowed down a large earthen berm recently built by the federal government.

However, at least a few locals say they suffered damage to fields and are losing money on property that can’t be rented while under water. Both say flooding from the recent storms came from a “pilot channel” off Hollister Street near Monument Road that breached its berm. City officials have not yet cleared out that section.

Wide stretches of the Kimzey Ranch on Hollister Street at Monument Road, including stables and pens where four horses and nearly a dozen goats drowned last December, were under about a half-foot of water or filled with mud this week.

“It wouldn’t have happened if the city would have cleaned the pilot channel out first,” said rancher Dick Tynan, who is losing about $2,600 per month in rent on land that’s “mucky.”

Farmer David Egger, who is suing the city for damages from last year’s flooding, said 10 acres of topsoil were ruined by Dec. 7 flooding. He estimates the loss at up to $100,000.

“Without the pilot channel cleaned out, it backs up and gets higher and higher and gets to a point where it goes over the top of those berms,” Egger said.

City crews began clearing out Tijuana River Valley channels in October after receiving emergency permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Tony Heinrichs, director of the city’s Storm Water Department, said before the early-December storms, crews had been working seven days a week to clear out the 1,600-foot Smuggler’s Gulch flood-control channel. He said they had nearly completed the western portion of the 5,400-foot pilot channel but still must complete the eastern side.

“Had the rains not come, we thought by the end of this month we’d be finished,” Heinrichs said. “But now we have to wait a few days to dry out. If we have a week’s worth of good weather, we’ll be able to get back out there definitely by next week.”

Heinrichs said city crews’ top priority will be to clear the rest of the pilot channel and the sediment from Smuggler’s Gulch.

Horse owner Kim Warriner and her husband, Kirk Coles, checked out the Smuggler’s Gulch channel last week. It sits below an earthen berm made from 1.5 million cubic yards of dirt, the site of a new border fence. Homeland Security waived federal and state laws for the fence construction last year, including for drainage and erosion controls.

“This was 10 feet deep,” Warriner said. “Now, it looks like it’s been filled with 4 feet of sediment.”

The National Weather Service expects warm, dry conditions through at least Sunday. Long-range forecasters believe that a wet season is likely because of the emergence of El Niño conditions in the central Pacific. The heaviest rains may come in February or March.

Heinrichs said getting the work done quickly is the city’s goal. The emergency permit expires Feb. 15.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Tire Runs Through It

Beneath a bridge on Dairy Mart Road in the Tijuana River Valley, a lonely soccer ball races by, tumbling end over end with the flow of the river. It's made a quick journey across the border today and within moments, will disappear behind a group of trees and high weeds.

It's lonely now, but it won't be for long. Coming right behind it is a two-liter Coca-Cola bottle -- then a tire, a jar of whey protein supplement, a piece of Styrofoam and a mattress.

They're all headed north. On this rainy day, when downpours fall across Tijuana, too, the water awakens dormant litter that's been tossed aside in Mexico.

Eventually, when the water recedes and the flooding signs are put back on the side of the road, the magnitude of the litter will be clear. In January, reporter Rob Davis and I visited the Tijuana River Valley to see the impact that hard downpours have on the area.

Mounds of trash consumed a once clean valley. At the time, Davis put it this way:

A mile north of the border fence, Mexico's garbage stands five feet high in places, a pointillistic rainbow made of plastics. Royal blue oil containers. Green soda two-liters. Lavender fabric softener bottles.

There, in the Tijuana River basin, a wide channel that serves as the main drainage basin for Tijuana's storm water runoff, a stack of garbage stretches almost a quarter-mile long. The plastic bottles have washed across the border and gotten stuck in plain sight.

Monday, nearly a year after photographing the aftermath, I waded through the mud and pouring rain to see firsthand how the trash arrived.

At first glance, the garbage flow seemed unremarkable. An old doll here, a paper plate there. But then, clusters of plastic bottles came past. Within a 10-minute span, at least 20 tires floated through the cross-border canyon called Smuggler's Gulch.

The slow trickle of litter adds up. But the scale of the problem won't be as clear until the water dries up. Then the job can begin -- yet again -- to clean up the valley that can't escape the rain.


Click here for more photos.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Scientists take aim at cigarettes


They have two parts: a plastic filter and the remnants of a smoked cigarette.

They’re considered the No. 1 littered item in the world, and more than 1 million are collected annually in beach cleanups nationwide.

They’re targeted by groups trying to raise cigarette taxes for more litter-control projects.

They’re toxic to fish.


Cigarettes don’t just kill people, they also kill fish.

So said San Diego State University researchers who are trying to build a case for labeling cigarette butts as toxic hazardous waste. That tag would prompt more rules to reduce their presence in the environment, though the bigger effect may be in public perception.

The San Diego scientists will present their conclusions today at the 137th annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in Philadelphia. They have submitted their results for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

“It’s another way of looking at cigarettes as a societal hazard,” said Tom Novotny, a professor of public health at SDSU. “If we reframe the butts as toxic hazardous waste, that adds another opportunity to change the social acceptability of smoking.”

Robert Best, regional director of the smokers’ rights group Citizens Freedom Alliance in Ventura County, is skeptical.

“This is just another attack on smokers and an attack on the entire tobacco industry, including farmers and distributors, in the midst of an economic crisis,” Best said. “We already have littering laws in the state of California that say you cannot throw any trash out on the ground or in the waterways.”

In recent years, community and health activists have won bans on smoking at beaches from California to New Jersey. Lawmakers acted partly out of concern about secondhand smoke and partly to reduce the amount of cigarette butts discarded at parks and other places. In July, San Francisco added a 20-cent fee to each pack of cigarettes to cover the cost of collecting spent smokes.

Novotny and his collaborators in the Cigarette Butt Pollution Project want more controls on what they call the most littered object on Earth. Trillions of cigarettes are smoked worldwide each year, and more than 1 million butts are collected annually during coastal cleanups in the United States, according to the project.

Novotny wondered about the butts’ effects on waterways. He turned to Rick Gersberg, a professor of public health at SDSU who specializes in water pollution.

Gersberg, a former smoker, was intrigued enough to review the scientific literature and determine that there were no published studies addressing cigarette butts and fish.

It’s different “if I pour a little vial of carcinogenic chemicals on the street — just a tiny amount,” Gersberg said. “(But if) hundreds of thousands of people were doing so many times a day, wouldn’t someone worry about it? Probably so.”

Gersberg helped design an experiment in which he let smoked filters soak in containers of water for 24 hours. Then he put fish in the polluted water and monitored them for five days, part of what he called a standard hazard assessment.

Half the fish died in both salt and fresh water, Gersberg said.

The bigger question is whether cigarettes have a similar effect in the real world — something that hasn’t been evaluated.

“We’d like to look at the chemicals that are actually causing the toxicity and if they are accumulating in marine life,” Gersberg said.

The $110,000 study on cigarette butts included policy analysis and biological research. It was funded by the California Tobacco Related Disease Research Program, a University of California effort to reduce the health and economic costs of tobacco use.

At UC San Francisco’s tobacco-control center, Richard Barnes has offered ideas for reducing cigarette butt litter such as levying new taxes on tobacco products to pay for litter collection, strengthening penalties for cigarette litter and suing tobacco companies to recover cleanup costs.

The nonprofit Surfrider Foundation is trying a different approach. On Saturday, the group’s San Diego County chapter will hold its sixth annual “Hold Onto Your Butt” awareness program. The event will include demonstrations and giveaways at three beach communities in the region.

The SDSU research gives Surfrider more ammunition. “We have thought for a while that toxic chemicals leach from discarded butts when submerged in water, so it’s good in some ways to see confirmation,” said Bill Hickman from the group’s local chapter.

By Mike Lee

Friday, November 6, 2009

Tijuana Biofilter

This summer Urban Biofilter joined the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve and Earth Island Institute’s Restoration Initiative on a bi-national project to restore the Tijuana River Estuary Watershed.

Urban Biofilter hosted a 30-person workshop in the Tijuana neighborhood of San Bernardo to help restore the flow of water to the local river system. As is the case with many of the informal settlements in the area, San Bernardo does not have a centralized sewage treatment system. This means that wastewater from San Bernardo simply drains through the streets to the Tijuana River Estuary, one of the last 24 estuaries remaining in the country. Each side street becomes a tributary to the main street, Calle Amanecer, which eventually flows to the estuary, dramatically impacting the water quality and aquatic ecosystem. These open channels also pose a serious health concern, as a vector for contamination, putting the local people at a greater risk of contracting hepatitis and staph infections, mosquito-borne diseases, and diarrhea.

In the course of the workshop, participants lined the channel with gravel to reduce human exposure to the water, and replanted the surrounding area with locally collected native willows to provide a natural air filter. The group also planted a small pilot crop of local bamboo.

Unlike other restoration groups working in the area, Urban Biofilter brings a holistic approach to restoration and water management. Working with communities who do not have access to municipal wastewater treatment systems to build decentralized waste treatment wetlands and ecological sanitation systems, which have the ability to yield building materials, which are in high demand. Now, Urban Biofilter is hoping to expand this pilot project to address the wastewater infrastructure of the 1.2 million Tijuana residents who live in informal communities.

For more

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

UCSD-TV "Los Laureles Canyon: Research in Action"

There may be a border dividing us, but when it comes to the environmental challenges facing Los Laureles, a canyon that crosses the U.S.-Mexico border and spills into the sensitive wetlands of California's Tijuana Estuary, we all must deal with the consequences. That's why researchers from both countries have come together to try to affect change in a place that 65,000 people call home.

UCSD-TV Producer Shannon Bradley, in collaboration with Keith Pezzoli of UCSD's Urban Studies and Planning program, visited the region and met with researchers on both sides of the border who are seeking ways to repair the area's failing infrastructure and stop its waste from flowing down into the estuary, threatening the wildlife that depend on its pristine wetlands for survival. This inspiring story is told in a new UCSD-TV documentary premiering this month. Find out more at

UCSD-TV is available on Time Warner and Cox cable Ch. 135, Time Warner Del Mar Ch. 19, AT&T U-Verse Ch. 99, and UHF (no cable) Ch. 35.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Volunteers Haul 600 Tires, Trash Out Of Tijuana River Valley

About 300 volunteers from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border hauled more than six tons of trash out of the Tijuana River Valley last weekend. Volunteers want to help prevent flooding this winter and keep trash from washing out to sea.

Surfers, ranchers, U.S. Navy Seals, students and volunteers from Tijuana pulled around 600 tires out of San Diego's Tijuana River Valley. They filled two 40-foot-long dumpsters with trash.

Ben McCue is with the conservation group Wildcoast that helped organize the clean up. He says the volunteers even dragged out a few refrigerators.

"Everything we hauled out would have been swept down further into the estuary and into the ocean eventually with the next big rain."

Rain washes garbage from Tijuana neighborhoods that don't have garbage collection across the border into the Tijuana River Valley.

The waste combined with sediment blocks drainage channels. Last winter, that caused flooding.

There's worry the newly built border fence could exacerbate flooding this winter by depositing more sediment in drainage channels.

By Amy Isackson

2009 Paddle for Clean Water Video Re-cap

Click here to check it out.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Barren Promise at the Border

Had anyone else built this hillside near the U.S.-Mexico border, it would look nothing like it does. The barren hill would be alive with native plants, the earth would be solidly rooted and not a threat to tumble down into the Tijuana Estuary, a lush, 2,500-acre salt marsh that starts 600 feet away.

But along the newly constructed border fence near the Pacific Ocean in Border Field State Park, inch-thick tan clumps of seeds and mulch still blanket the ground. They haven't been watered, so no plants have grown.

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.

Because the project is exempt from the federal Clean Water Act, state water regulators have no jurisdiction.

Homeland Security officials sought the waiver power in 2005 to accelerate fence construction in San Diego and across the Southwest, saying that national security needs trumped environmental concerns. That power has accelerated construction from San Diego to Brownsville, as the agency has waived laws across 550 miles of the border. To date, 633 miles of fence have been built at a cost of $2.4 billion.

The department made the same promise each time it waived laws like the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act: Though we're now exempt from federal and state environmental regulation, we're still committed to the environment.

But as construction continues across the Southwest, the project's impacts in Border Field State Park and in another federal reserve further east raise questions about the sincerity of the government's commitment.

Clay Phillips, the California State Parks superintendent who oversees Border Field and the estuary, said that promise hasn't been fulfilled there. Mitigation of the fence's environmental impacts has "failed miserably," Phillips said.

Phillips worries that winter rains will wash soil off the hills into the nearby estuary he oversees, which is home to several sensitive species and already filling with sediment swept in from Tijuana. Sediment raises the level of the ground, stopping the twice-daily tidal flushing that keeps the wetlands wet.

Army Corps of Engineers contractors completed the fence separating San Diego and Tijuana in July. They filled in the notorious cross-border canyon known as Smuggler's Gulch, added a second layer of steel fencing and built a road for Border Patrol vehicles running parallel to the fence. The gulch, once a deep canyon, is now filled with an earthen berm more than 100 feet tall.

Though native plant seeds were sprayed across the berm and other newly created hillsides in Border Field State Park, Phillips said the federal government never irrigated them. Only a handful of plants grew. Other hills have none.

"They sprayed it (with seed) and hoped for the best," Phillips said. "It was a waste. A token gesture."

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman, Jenny Burke, said the project was built to Caltrans' erosion standards. The agency will "monitor the situation and is considering other actions as required."

John Robertus, executive officer of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, the local water pollution police, said the project doesn't have all the safeguards his agency would've required. He said if the board had jurisdiction, it would've required temporary irrigation to ensure plants grew. Robertus said he, too, is concerned about the project's potential impacts on the estuary.

Fence construction has left a mark on other areas in San Diego County greater than what would've been allowed without the waiver. Further east in the federally protected Otay Mountain Wilderness, a road built along a new four-mile section of fence also left barren hills, said Joyce Schlachter, a wildlife biologist with the federal Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the area.

"When we get any rain, it's going to be an erosion nightmare," Schlachter said. Seeds have been sprayed there, too, but not watered, she said. No plants have grown.

The impacts on Otay Mountain stretch beyond possible erosion. Phalanxes of dump trucks going to work on the fence have rumbled up and down a dirt road, spreading clouds of dust as far as 30 feet away, blanketing Tecate cypress, a rare tree found only on three peaks in San Diego County. (Its range extends into Mexico.) The tree, a bushy evergreen, provides food for the Thorne's hairstreak butterfly, a rare thumbnail-sized insect that feeds only on the cypress and that has been suffering from too-frequent fires on the mountain.

Construction crews cut down more than 100 cypress that survived a massive 2003 wildfire to widen an existing road for construction vehicles, Schlachter said.

If laws hadn't been waived, the Bureau would have required construction crews to minimize their impact on the trees, she said. Homeland Security officials consulted with the Bureau, Schlachter said, then didn't follow all of its advice.

"When it came right down to it, they did what they wanted to do," Schlachter said. "And they knew they couldn't be stopped. We did not have control over it."

Kathy Williams, a San Diego State biology professor studying the butterfly, said the dust poses "potentially a really serious problem" for the Thorne's hairstreak and the cypress.

Williams has reared a small number of Thorne's caterpillars on both dusty and clean leaves in her laboratory. Results from the on-going experiment so far indicate that more caterpillars survived on clean leaves, she said.

Before construction began last year, Williams said the roadside habitat looked much healthier. She saw more butterflies last year than she did this year, though she noted that population sizes vary annually.

"Now it's obviously degraded habitat," she said, noting that rainfall may help clean the leaves. "The appearance of the quality of the site is strikingly different."

Burke, the Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman, said the agency consulted with U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials about the Otay project and routinely wets the road to keep dust down. She said Customs and Border Protection will monitor the dust and maintain the roads "to their construction standard," and could periodically apply "dust-control agents," which include sap.

Those efforts haven't always worked well. Sap was sprayed on trees beyond the road's edge, Schlachter said. Dust stuck on top of the sap, she said, making the trees' survival questionable. "They're creating more risk to the plants," she said. "That's an issue."

On at least one occasion, crews didn't water the road -- even though they had the necessary equipment on hand. One morning in June, a water truck escorted dump trucks to the work site but didn't spray any water. As the trucks wound through the wilderness past Tecate cypress, choking clouds of dust followed.

U.S. Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, whose district includes Border Field State Park, said in a statement that she wants more done immediately to address the fence's environmental impacts.

"Many people, including myself, expressed strong concerns about the border fence and the implications of exempting the construction of the fence from environmental laws," Davis said. "Unfortunately, those concerns are becoming a reality. I hope the Department of Homeland Security will continue to work with Congress and local officials in finding an immediate solution and work toward a permanent one."

A representative of an environmental group that opposed the fence because of concerns about erosion said its construction reinforced the reasons for his opposition. Jim Peugh, conservation chairman of the San Diego Audubon Society, said he hopes the fence serves as an example of why environmental laws should never be waived.

"The idea of building something without seeing how you're going to maintain it -- it's just going to fail," Peugh said. "That's an insane thing to do. And this project proves that beyond a doubt."

By Rob Davis

Thursday, October 22, 2009

WiLDCOAST Leads First Ever Bi-National Cleanup of San Diego's Tijuana River Valley

WiLDCOAST, Tijuana Calidad de Vida, and Surfrider are organizing volunteers and organizations from both sides of the border to clean-up the Tijuana River Valley before the first rain event flushes plastics, tires, and trash into the ocean.

Every winter San Diego's Tijuana River Valley is inundated with trash carried by the bi-national Tijuana River. Each rain event brings tons of ocean-bound trash and solid waste through the valley and the protected Tijuana Estuary. This poses serious environmental, health, and economic threats to our region. The event's message is clear: the only way to clean-up the Tijuana River is through cross-border collaboration.

Families, students, ranchers, surfers, Navy Seals, farmers and environmentalists from both sides of the San Diego-Tijuana border ranging in age from 7 to 77 will be working side-by-side to clean-up the Tijuana River Valley by hand.

9 am - 12pm on Saturday, October 24th, 2009 (The event is also part of the International Day of Climate Action and is one of 3000 events across 159 countries to protect our environment and take a stand for a safe climate future.)

2220 Dairy Mart Rd. - West of the Dairy Mart Bridge

Take Interstate 5 South exit on Dairy Mart Rd; Make a right onto Dairy Mart Rd; Continue straight on Dairy, pass Camino de la Plaza; Make a right onto first dirt road visible on right hand side.

Great Waves and Big Crowd for WiLDCOAST's 6th Annual Dempsey Ocean Festival and Surf Contest

With more than 180 participants, the 6th Annual WiLDCOAST Dempsey Holder Memorial Ocean Festival and Surf Contest was the largest surfing competition ever held in South San Diego County. On Sunday October 18 on the south side of the Imperial Beach Pier, more than 500 spectators lined the beach to watch surfers from all over San Diego County surf beautiful 2-4' waves.

"We were absolutely stunned by the record number of participants who turned out and the amazing Aloha spirit of the crowd," said Serge Dedina, Executive Director of WiLDCOAST. "This was by far the most successful event we've run so far. And we were blown away by the spirit of giving by the County of San Diego and Billabong and by community members and businesses who sponsored dozens of children who able to participate free of charge."

The annual event was made possible by support from Billabong, whose CEO Paul Naude also donated a beautiful Rusty surfboard. A County of San Diego Community Enhancement Grant was made possible thanks to the support of County Supervisor Greg Cox who made an appearance to meet contest participants. Additional major sponsors included TNT Surfboards, Novak Surfboard Designs, Morey Boogie, Pacific Realty, Emerald City Boarding Source, Adept Process Services and Alan Cunniff Construction. Additional supporters included Katie's Coffee, Cowabunga, Surf Hut, Oakley, Volcom, Osiris, GoPro, and many others.

In a competition presided over by Dempsey's son and honorary event chairman Peter Holder, surfers battled it out in the mixed swell sets that poured in all morning. Groms and adults surfed the clean morning conditions Although the wind turned less favorable in the afternoon; competitors were not deterred from ripping to the top in each of the 50 heats that went down on Sunday.

An early stand out was El Cajon's Vito Roccoforte who, despite not advancing his Junior Men's heat, nearly pulled a radical reverse on a south site left-hander. In the Junior Men's final, Mason Darleux dropped a 7 with two powerful forehand cracks on a pier bowl right but it wasn't enough to catch Jay Christenson who also won the Boys division final. Former Women's Longboard World Champ, Kristy Murphy, made two finals; winning the women's division and placing 5th in the Open SUP. Vincent Claunch was a standout in the Menehune Boys Expression Session with stylish lip blasts and fin hucks. Mike Gillard made three finals, placing 2nd in the Masters, 1st in the Longboard and 3rd in the SUP. Drew Erichson won the stacked bodyboard division and Jahvin Bowman took home the top rated amateur award and a year sponsorship with Morey Boogie. Erik Leksell won the top rated youth award and a slew of gear from Morey and Churchill.

This year the Dempsey highlighted the progress that has been made along the U.S.-Mexico border to clean up the coast. With a new sewage treatment plant under construction on the U.S. side of the border, three new sewage plants operating in the Tijuana-Rosarito Beach region, and the signing of legislation by Governor Schwarzenegger to fund cleaning up Tijuana, the WiLDCOAST "Clean Water Now" campaign has made a significant contribution to protecting our coast and ocean.

One of the highlights of the event that demonstrated the true Aloha Spirit of the Dempsey came during the awards ceremony, when young men's standout Jay Christenson donated one of two surfboards he had won to Imperial Beach grom Robert Tschackert a longtime WiLDCOAST volunteer. "I was blown away by Jay's generous spirit," said WiLDCOAST staffer and WQS competitor Zach Plopper. "He really showed us why the Dempsey is more than just a surfing event but a festival to celebrate our positive community-based coast and ocean conservation movement."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Effort to Block Emergency Cleanup of Tijuana River Valley Fails

SAN DIEGO - An effort to halt the city's emergency work to clear clogged flood control channels in the Tijuana River Valley to prevent flooding in advance of winter rains was rejected today by a judge.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor denied a temporary restraining order sought in conjunction with a lawsuit by attorney Cory Briggs, who argued the project didn't comply with California's environmental laws.

At a morning hearing, Taylor found that the flood control project met an exemption for emergencies in state environmental law, according to Alex Roth, a spokesman for Mayor Jerry Sanders.

Sanders said he was "gratified" by the judge's decision.

"Last year, with just two inches of rain, we had a very dangerous situation where we lost livestock and nearly lost some of the ranchers down there," Sanders said.

"If it hadn't been for our swift water rescue team, there probably would have been loss of life, and we want to avoid that this year," he said. "That's why we have an emergency situation."

Last week, work began to remove trash, debris, sediment and overgrown vegetation from clogged flood control channels in the Tijuana River Valley. The work is expected to be completed by Feb. 15.

The San Diego City Council declared a state of emergency for the Tijuana River Valley last month and authorized $4.4 million in stormwater funds to dredge the drainage channels.

Last winter, floods inundated the Tijuana River Valley with contaminated water, caused substantial property damage and contributed to the death of horses and other livestock.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Law firm seeks to stop cleanup of Tijuana River Valley

SOUTH COUNTY – A law firm suing the city for declaring a state of emergency in the Tijuana River Valley and authorizing the removal of tons of debris will seek a temporary restraining order Thursday to stop the work.

Cleanup began last week on the river's flood-control channels, which are filled with sediment and trash after years of accumulation. The work is aimed at preventing a repeat of last December's devastating floods.

The suit alleges that the project did not constitute an emergency under San Diego's municipal codes and that the sole-source contracts awarded for the cleanup work violated city law.

Attorney Mekaela Gladden, on behalf of San Diegans for Open Government, notified the city Wednesday that the group would be asking a judge to stop the cleanup while its Sept. 17 lawsuit is being decided.

San Diego spokesman Alex Roth said the lawsuit is baseless. He said a provision in state environmental law contains an exemption for emergencies.

Gladden works for Briggs Law Corp., whose owner, Cory Briggs, has sued to stop the $21 million cruise-ship terminal at Broadway Pier and the redevelopment of the Navy's downtown San Diego headquarters.

Neither Gladden nor Briggs returned a call for comment. Others were dismayed by the suit.

“It's inconceivable that special interests would oppose clearing the original river channel, damning nearby properties to certain destruction and likely loss of life,” said John Gabaldon, president of the Tijuana River Valley Equestrian Association.

Union-Tribune Staff Writer

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bare Dirt Along New Border Fence A Flood Worry

State parks officials are worried the federal government's failure to grow plants on slopes where it built new sections of the border fence could mean floods on both sides of the US Mexico border this rainy season. Smuggler's Gulch is a major area of concern.

About four years ago, the US federal government waived all environmental laws along the US Mexico border in order to build the border fence. The head of the Department of Homeland Security promised, even so, the government would control erosion to protect the Tijuana River Valley and estuary.

Clay Phillips is with the California Parks Department and manages the estuary reserve. He says the bare slopes that run the length of the new fence construction are a stark contrast to the promise.

"You wouldn't find a Jack In the Box where they're adding a parking lot that would be left in this condition."

The federal government has tried to grow plants on the slopes to control erosion without success. Phillips says moderate rain will erode the bare dirt. That could clog the Tijuana Estuary and cause floods in Tijuana and San Diego.

By Amy Isackson

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Imperial Beach group helps pass tire bill

— Environmentalists praised Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for signing a bill Sunday that lets the state's solid waste agency spend money on projects in Mexico aimed at reducing the number of old tires polluting the border area.

Sen. Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, sponsored Senate Bill 167 to address the environmental hazards created by thousands of used tires that wash into San Diego County during storms. The legislation frees up fees collected for tire recycling so they can fund programs designed to keep tires in Mexico from entering California's waste stream.

“(It) will allow California to work upstream in Tijuana, at the root of the problem, to stop the flow of used tires,” said Ben McCue of the conservation group WiLDCOAST in Imperial Beach. “This is a victory for the environment and a great deal for California taxpayers.”

McCue helped write the bill as part of a graduate school program at the University of San Diego. He and his classmates lobbied for its passage in Sacramento.

Union-Tribune Staff Writer

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Crews clean clogged Tijuana River channels

TIJUANA RIVER VALLEY – Emergency permits in hand, crews are cleaning out clogged Tijuana River channels that in December caused nearby ranches and farms to flood and animals to drown.

The San Diego City Council last month declared a local state of emergency for the river valley, which allowed the city to spend up to $4.4 million to clean out the river and channels choked with sediment, vegetation and debris.

But the work couldn't begin until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the cleanup plan.

That approval came this week.

“I'm confident the work will make a difference,” said Mayor Jerry Sanders Friday at a news conference Friday in the river valley where horses and goats drowned. “This is a short-term solution. We're working on a long-term solution with a master clean-up plan. We'll take care of it annually.”

Last December, storms caused the river and channels to overflow. Some blamed the clogged river and channels on a border fence built along a large earthen berm that lacks drainage and erosion controls. Other blamed a combination of debris and trash from Mexico and sediment from the fence.

River-valley horse and property owners say with the rainy season approaching, they are relieved the work has begun.

“It's about time,” said ranch owner Dick Tynan. “It's way past due.”


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Water exec is leaving legacy of teamwork

Agency alliance works to clean Tijuana River

As the San Diego region's top water cop walked through the Denver airport in December, his eye caught a disturbing photo at the newsstand. Front pages from around the country showed a woman chest-deep in muddy water leading a horse to higher ground.

“I thought, ‘I know exactly where that is,’ ” said John Robertus, executive officer of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board. “That kind of hit home.”

The photo was taken in the Tijuana River Valley, the often-neglected southwest corner of San Diego County that for more than 70 years has been fouled by raw sewage, garbage and mud when rains cause the clogged waterway to flood. Homes, horse ranches and farms dot the largely undeveloped area.

That moment in the airport cemented a mission now dominating the final months of Robertus' 14-year tenure with the water board.

Robertus, who will retire in December, has forged an alliance of more than 30 agencies focused on fixing some of the most persistent problems with the county's most polluted river.

Regional environmental leaders credit him with crafting a unified vision for restoring the watershed, using his regulator's badge to make people listen and helping to attract more than $2 million in grants during recent months from state agencies.

“John is really the visionary on this,” said Carl Nettleton, a San Diego-based consultant on public policy and business issues and co-chairman — along with Robertus — of the Tijuana River Valley Recovery Team.

“We have always said, ‘It's not our trash. It's not our sediment. It's coming from the other side of the border. Shouldn't folks there do that?’ ” Nettleton said. “The (Robertus) approach is, ‘That would be great, but what could we do on this side?’ ”

The U.S. portion of the Tijuana River runs about six miles from near the San Ysidro port of entry to the Pacific Ocean south of Imperial Beach. Even in its degraded state, the surrounding greenbelt is widely viewed as an environmental prize because it's one of the largest intact estuaries in California.

The recovery team is working to intercept pollutants by installing trash screens, sediment collection basins and garbage-transfer stations. It also plans to remove decades of built-up silt and garbage so the estuary can function as it did before it became clogged.

Those projects will complement efforts made in recent years to improve sewage control and treatment on both sides of the border.

In August, Mexican officials celebrated the addition of wastewater pumps, pipes and processing plants in Tijuana. Meanwhile, the U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission is expanding its sewage-treatment facility in San Ysidro, which handles wet-weather flows from the Tijuana River.

The first decade of the recovery team's work is expected to cost at least $100 million — similar to the projected bill for a major cleanup of tainted sediment in San Diego Bay. Maintenance projects would continue indefinitely.

Robertus said the federal government should cover the bulk of the tab because most of the pollution problem comes from Mexico and it's made worse by the United States creating steep, erosion-prone hillsides for the border fence.

The need for upgrades in the valley is clear.

“If you come here after the first big rain (of the season), it looks like snow in those trees as far as the eye can see because of plastic bottles,” said Clay Phillips, a top State Parks official in the river valley.

The area's residents and visitors fear not only more property damage from floods, but also the chances of a public-health emergency from diseases carried in the muddy flows.

“The issues are so complex that nobody has really figured out a way to untangle them,” said John Gabaldon, president of the Tijuana River Valley Equestrian Association. “Without someone as strong as John Robertus in there, I see it falling back into becoming impenetrable.”

For Robertus, 63, the Tijuana River initiative caps a lengthy tenure atop one of the region's most powerful agencies. The board is among nine similar panels statewide that regulate water pollution.

Robertus' no-nonsense approach makes him an archetypal executive officer, said John Lormon, an attorney for Ametek, which recently was fined by the regional water board. “He's not political. He's about water quality.”

Lormon was on the agency's governing panel in 1995 when it hired Robertus, who had just left Camp Pendleton after a 28-year career with the Marine Corps.

In his 20s, Robertus was immersed in studying the Clean Water Act at the U.S. Army Engineer School at Fort Belvoir, Va., where his class was among the first to get training in the 1972 law.

He admired the regional water board's work over the decades and saw the executive-officer position as a natural fit for his technical expertise along with his love of rivers, lakes and streams.

“As an engineer, I was trained in the art of development. When you encountered water, you could improve it — fill it in and get rid of it,” Robertus said. “I now believe that if you encounter a water body that is natural . . . then leave it alone. It's a rare, valuable asset.”

Robertus understands the Tijuana River Valley's problems better than most. His agency sued the federal government in 2001 to improve sewage treatment at the wastewater plant in San Ysidro, which doesn't meet Clean Water Act standards.

The lawsuit eventually prompted the federal government to give $88 million for various plant improvements that started in January.

Buoyed by that success, Robertus leveraged his long list of contacts to grab the attention of officials involved in the valley.

“I said, ‘Come to these meetings or I am going to issue a cleanup and abatement order,’ ” Robertus said. “They all came.”

By early this year, he met with San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, the head of a U.S.-Mexico water commission, and representatives from congressional offices, environmental groups and local universities.

Leaders from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, California State Parks, San Diego County and other agencies meet monthly as part of the river recovery team.

Many of the groups had spent years addressing pieces of the valley's pollution problem without much coordination. They sometimes competed for money. Now, they help each other — something Phillips called the “first huge practical benefit” of the alliance.

The team's emerging plan focuses on three major areas of pollution: the main channel of the Tijuana River, a canyon called Smuggler's Gulch and another known as Goat Canyon.

Proposed fixes include placing screens along the international border to stop trash from clogging the valley's lower reaches. Those devices would be complemented by basins designed to collect sediment where it can be removed quickly.

In addition, scientists are trying to quantify the volume of sediment and trash deposited over the decades before they begin removal. They also are looking for places where existing sediment can be transferred — perhaps to the nearby shoreline — for relatively little cost.

Besides the domestic projects, the recovery team is working with agencies in Mexico to minimize and capture pollutants at their origin.

Robertus said he is confident that momentum for the coordinated cleanup strategy will continue after he retires.

“I intend to bring my grandkids down there some day, and I want them to see the unspoiled beach, the coastal river and the estuary” free of debris, he said.

Union-Tribune Staff Writer

Friday, October 2, 2009

Pink Waves Roll in Imperial Beach

See the Following Flow of Pollutants post from Sept 22 for more info and click here to check out the colorful surf.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

North American Development Bank signs US$22 million loan for water and wastewater works in Tijuana, Baja California

San Antonio, Texas – The North American Development Bank (NADB) and the Tijuana water utility, Comisión de Servicios Públicos de Tijuana (CESPT), have signed a loan agreement for up to $300 million pesos (currently valued at about US$22.07 million) for the expansion of the water and wastewater systems in the cities of Tijuana and Playas de Rosarito, Baja California.

The loan proceeds will be used for the first phase of the US$37.75 million project, which includes the construction of two water storage tanks with a total capacity of 2.4 million gallons and the installation of water distribution and sanitary sewer lines in areas currently without service in Tijuana. Water service will be provided to four subdivisions, benefiting 30,000 residents, while sewer service will be provided 46,300 residents in five subdivisions.

The project was certified by the Border Environment Cooperation Commission (BECC) on July 21, 2009, and upon completion will reduce environmental and health hazards associated with inadequate drinking water services and sewage disposal, thus providing a cleaner, healthier environment for local residents.

In addition to this project, NADB is supporting four other wastewater projects in Tijuana, which represent a total investment of US$79.8 million and will benefit an estimated 601, 000 residents by providing adequate wastewater collection and disposal services. As a result, approximately 20.88 million gallons of sewage a day is being properly treated prior to discharge into the Tijuana River and/or Pacific Ocean, which also benefits the southern California coastline.

Bank participation in all five projects consists of US$36.9 million in grants through its Border Environment Infrastructure Fund (BEIF), which operates with funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection (EPA), as well as US$35.5 million in loans.

“Over the 15 years the Bank has been in business, CESPT has shown itself to be a sound utility, committed to developing water and wastewater infrastructure befitting a city of the size of Tijuana” stated NADB Managing Director Jorge Garcés.

NADB is currently helping finance 129 environmental infrastructure projects throughout the U.S.-Mexico border region with almost US$982.9 million in loans and grants.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Following the flow of pollutants

Ocean-monitoring project will help researchers to predict beach closures

IMPERIAL BEACH – Dozens of scientists, engineers and volunteers in wet suits and immersed in 67-degree water are setting up sensitive equipment along Imperial Beach's shoreline to better understand water pollution.

The work is part of a $1.5 million experiment that may help manage beach closures along the entire California coast.

Scientists with UCSD's Scripps Institution of Oceanography say the goal of the Imperial Beach Pollutant Transport and Dilution Experiment is to track how pollutants are moved by waves, currents and tides.

On Monday, investigators dropped floating devices called drifters, which move like dye, into the Pacific Ocean. Dye testing is set to begin Monday.

Drifters and dye both simulate pollution. However, drifters provide better data for how fast pollutants spread along the shore while dye better monitors cross-shore movement.

The drifters and nontoxic dye will be released from the Tijuana River to just north of the Imperial Beach city limit, depending on the swell and other conditions.

Scientists say the markers will be carried by currents and form a plume as they head toward the sensors. Measurements of waves, current, depth and the dye will track the rate at which the plume widens and dilutes.

Falk Feddersen, one of three principal investigators and a Scripps scientist, said researchers hope to have the raw data analyzed so it can be presented in February at the 2010 Ocean Sciences Meeting in Portland.

“We will have a much better understanding of how pollutants get diluted in the water and how quickly they are transported if there's a spill or sewage in the surf zone,” Feddersen said.

Feddersen said a similar experiment in Huntington Beach in 2006 helped Scripps scientists improve sampling techniques but was limited in scope. This time, he said, “we're really going to dial it in.”

Feddersen said if pollutant movement is better understood, a model can be created to provide water-quality updates for ocean users. He said the updates could be made available online, much as current wave conditions are.

Six tripods holding sensors and meters sit anchored in the water off Ebony Avenue, marked by tall poles topped with colorful flags.

Researchers installed more equipment in the water and on the beach that will help gather and relay the information to Scripps hourly. Data will be collected for about one month. The experiment will run through Oct. 31.

The study was designed for dry-weather conditions when the Tijuana River flow is light and beach use is heavy. Imperial Beach was selected for its long, straight coastline and history of water pollution when it rains.

All-terrain vehicles will be used to survey the beach and specially equipped Jet Skis will collect data offshore. Warning signs are posted.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, California Department of Boating and Waterways, Office of Naval Research and California Sea Grant.

Feddersen said two recent meetings to discuss the study brought out locals who asked tough questions.

Ben McCue, a program manager at Wildcoast, an Imperial Beach-based conservation group, said he appreciates that Scripps reached out.

“This will give us one more tool to understand when the water is clean and when it is not,” McCue said. “The more people know, the better.”

Union-Tribune Staff Writer

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Council could declare emergency for area prone to flooding

— The San Diego City Council on Tuesday will consider declaring a local state of emergency for the Tijuana River Valley due to the possibility of severe flooding that could create “an imminent threat to life and property.”

Under the declaration, city officials could spend up to $4.4 million in storm-water funds to excavate several of the river's clogged drainage channels this month in advance of the rainy season.

In December, four horses and nearly a dozen goats drowned as moderate storms caused water to overflow the river and channels that were choked with sediment, vegetation and debris. Adding urgency is a prediction of El Niño conditions that could mean a wet winter for San Diego.

“We know based on what happened last winter that if the same or worse storms happen, there is a potential for a lot more flooding,” said Tony Heinrichs, director of the city's Storm Water Department. “We want to get in there now and dispose of the sediment so the flood-control channels operate as flood-control channels.”

John Gabaldon, president of the Tijuana River Valley Equestrian Association, said his group is pleased with the proposal.

“It's necessary, and if it passes, it will prevent devastation and the loss of some very vibrant businesses down there,” Gabaldon said.

Heinrichs said a recently completed portion of a U.S. Department of Homeland Security border fence in an area known as Smuggler's Gulch greatly changed the hydrology of the area just north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

The valley routinely gets tons of trash and debris when it rains, but Heinrichs said the project allowed more sediment to clog nearby storm-drain channels.

“We also believe the water flow itself increased in velocity, which causes scouring action and leads to potential flooding problems,” he said.

Homeland Security waived federal and state laws for the fence construction, including for drainage and erosion controls.

Heinrichs said that while the city seeks the emergency declaration, it also is asking regulatory agencies to expedite emergency cleanup permits.

The city also will consider asking Homeland Security officials Tuesday to affirm that the order waiving all laws for the fence project extends to city flood-control work in the area. That would help streamline the permitting process, Heinrichs said.

On Wednesday, Mayor Jerry Sanders and Councilman Ben Hueso met in Washington, D.C., with Homeland Security and Army Corps of Engineers representatives. Mayoral spokesman Darren Pudgil said the meetings were productive, with both agencies pledging to work “to improve the situation in the valley.”

Heinrichs said there is a long-term plan to have the Army Corps conduct studies of Tijuana River Valley flooding issues that would lead to improvement projects to stop the annual deluge of trash and debris.

Finally, the city has been working for two years on a multiyear master cleanup permit that would allow the work to proceed year-round as needed. The master permit involves all flood-prone areas of the city.

The city expects to receive the permit by the end of the year. However, Tijuana River Valley horse owners and farmers have complained that would be too late. The river and some channels were not cleared after December's rains and remain clogged.

Dick Tynan, who owns Kimzey Ranch on Hollister Street and Monument Road, where many of the animals drowned, said he has heard residents threatening litigation if they lose livestock and crops again.

“A lawsuit could be possible,” Tynan said. “That is very, very likely. Two inches of rain will kill this valley if it's not cleaned up.”

Heinrichs said he is hopeful that council members will declare the local emergency.

“We want to do what we can to protect life and property,” he said. “When you actually have horses and goats drown and the (county's) Swiftwater Rescue Team saving people and animals, it's fresh in people's memories.”

Union-Tribune Staff Writer

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Coastal Clean Up Day!

Saturday, September 19th 9am-12pm
There will be clean up sites all over San Diego County and the Tijuana River Citizens’ Council will be hosting a site near the Dairy Mart bridge in Imperial Beach. Please join us at this location if you can, it’s definitely an area that needs the help. Check out for details and to register.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Researchers Study Ocean Pollution Off Imperial Beach

SAN DIEGO — UC San Diego researchers are trying to find out how pollution travels in the ocean off of Imperial Beach. The area has a history of water quality problems after rainstorms.
The researchers are using a non-toxic pink dye to track how pollution travels in the ocean from the border to the southern boundary of Silver Strand State Beach.

Other tools will be used to measure and track the dye including drifting devices with built-in GPS antennas.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography researcher Falk Feddersen says the the goal is to understand how currents and waves affect pollution.

"Does it dilute more or less at low tide or at high tide?" Feddersen asks. "Does it dilute more or less if the currents are really strong or very weak? These are the kinds of general questions that will be phrased more mathematically and statistically, but these are the kinds of questions that we're going to address."

Researchers will also use various instruments mounted on tripod frames in the surf west of Imperial Beach Boulevard.

The field experiments will continue through the end of October.

By Ed Joyce

Friday, September 4, 2009

18th Annual Paddle for Clean Water Festival

On Sunday, September 13th, 2009 beach lovers and ocean enthusiasts unite for clean water as The Surfrider Foundation San Diego Chapter hosts the 18th Annual Paddle for Clean Water Festival presented by Clif Bar. The event starts with free breakfast at 9 a.m., features a paddle around the Ocean Beach Pier at 10 a.m., then the festival continues until 5 p.m. at the Ocean Beach Pier parking lot. Full schedule is listed below.

This 18th year of the Paddle for Clean Water promises a full day of fun for everyone featuring booths highlighting environmental awareness and action, local artists and eco-friendly vendor; free massages; free surf lessons, a free surfboard demo from Holeman Surf Designs, a kids’ fun area featuring arts and crafts activities, food, great bands and a Stone Brew beer garden for folks age 21 and over.

The paddle around the OB Pier at 10 a.m. features all sorts of paddlecraft – surfboards, bodyboards, kayaks, outrigger canoes, etc. – in a non-competitive paddle out and around the Ocean Beach Pier to raise awareness to pollution problems along San Diego’s coastline. The event will also include breakfast for all paddlers starting at 9 a.m., along with special guest speakers, live music, a huge raffle with a Holeman Surf Designs surfboard as the grand prize, a beach cleanup, and bands all afternoon.

The decline of near-shore water quality remains one of the biggest threats to our world’s beaches and coastlines. In addition to destroying marine habitats, it poses a significant risk to the health and welfare of beachgoers. Two Surfrider campaigns will be highlighted this year:

* No B.S. - The No Border Sewage coalition to clean up the waters around the Mexico border
* San Diego’s water supply and how it relates to the marine environment – Know Your H2O!

9am: Light breakfast is served for all paddlers - FREE!
10am: Paddle around the OB Pier
11am: Group photo, guest speakers and raffle
11:30am: Live music begins with The Professors
11:30am: Stone Brew beer garden opens in parking lot & Kids arts and crafts area opens on grassy area near lifeguard tower
12:35pm: Pullman Standard
1:40pm: C Money and The Players Inc.
2:45pm: Tribal Seeds
4:00pm: Iration
5:00pm: Festival ends

Monday, August 31, 2009

Scripps will study how pollutants travel in ocean

IMPERIAL BEACH: Surfers and other beach users are invited to a meeting Wednesday to hear about an experiment that will study how pollutants are moved by waves, currents and tides.

The study by scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography will run from Sept. 8 through Oct. 3.

The goal of the Imperial Beach Pollutant Transport and Dilution Experiment is to understand how pollutants such as bacteria get transported and diluted in the surf zone. The information could be used to manage beach closures in California.

The focus of IB09, as the study also is known, will be on dry-weather conditions when the Tijuana River flow is small and beach use is heavy. Scientists will place dye in the water and note how it gets discharged.

The experiment site is from the Tijuana River to just north of the Imperial Beach city limits. The site was selected for its long, straight coastline and history of water-quality problems.

The meeting will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Dempsey Holder Safety Center, 950 Ocean Lane.

For information, e-mail or go to

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Free hepatitis A vaccination offered to beachgoers

— Surfers and bodyboarders come to Imperial Beach to catch the best waves. But if they swim in contaminated waters, they're at risk for catching something else.

Hepatitis A, along with other disease-causing pathogens, can flourish along South Bay beaches as northbound ocean currents funnel polluted water from the Tijuana River into the Imperial Beach surf.

That's why, for the first time, health workers teamed up with environmental protection advocates Saturday to offer free hepatitis A vaccination to interested beachgoers.

Jim Knox, 61, started surfing at Imperial Beach even before the pier was built in 1963. He was one of 75 people who signed up for inoculation.

Knox said everyone should take advantage of the opportunity.

“I've never gotten sick from the water, but I've been lucky. I know plenty of other surfers who have gotten hepatitis A,” said Knox, who was shuttled to the nearby Imperial Beach Health Center for his shot after registering with recruiters. “I think (the vaccine) is an excellent idea for everyone because I know not everyone stays out of the water when they're supposed to.”

Three years ago, San Diego State University researchers reported that hepatitis A was present in 80 percent of water samples taken off the Imperial Beach Pier.

In a 2007 survey, the nonprofit environmental group Wildcoast – a co-sponsor of Saturday's event – found that three out of five regular ocean users in Imperial Beach reported illnesses caused by water contamination.

“Our goal is to educate the public about hepatitis A and tell them that if there are signs warning of polluted beaches, especially after rain events, they need to obey the signs,” said Paloma Aguirre, a Wildcoast program coordinator.

Imperial Beach isn't the only coastal area that suffers from contaminated water.

“You can get hepatitis A anywhere, on any beach. Water flows,” said Dr. Daniel Johnson, a family physician at the Imperial Beach Health Center. “Imperial Beach is just being more proactive about it.”

Hepatitis A, a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus, affects the liver's functions. Although some people with hepatitis A never develop symptoms, others may feel as though they have a severe case of the flu with fever, jaundice, vomiting and stomach pain.

Hepatitis A vaccines are safe for children older than 1 as well as for most adults, including those with compromised immune systems, Johnson said. A second booster shot is needed in about six months, and that combination should provide lifetime immunity.

People who couldn't get a free hepatitis vaccine Saturday will have more chances in the coming days. The Imperial Beach Health Center is offering free vaccines until supplies run out, thanks to a grant from the San Francisco-based Tides Foundation.

For more information, call (619) 429-3733.

Union-Tribune Staff Writer

Thursday, August 13, 2009

July 9 No B.S./Coalition Meeting Summary

July 9, 2009 No B.S./Coalition Meeting
Wildcoast office, Imperial Beach
Attendees: Dan, Sara, Jay, Ben, Scott, Paloma, Johnny, Joseph, Danielle, Belinda, Clay, Dick, Ryan, Kyle, Scott, Gavin, Roger

June River Valley clean up - successes/ideas for next year and planning for the Fall Clean up:
Possibly get tools donated next year. Wheel barrows were difficult to push through sand - maybe use quads or three wheelers with a sled? Park Rangers may not approve but they have a gator that we could borrow. TRCC wants to register the Sherwood Forest area for Fall clean up. Volunteer efforts are not needed in all areas, the Estuary has contracted services that go in with trucks to clear certain spots. Need to do more to get local community (surfers!) to come out: contact press before hand, radio announcements (also in Spanish), Tommy Hough. Make an effort to get more school kids and younger people to attend (Montgomery Middle, Mar Vista), first through eighth grade is key. Take advantage of the county and Surfrider’s interactive watershed models for kids that explain runoff, storm drain, etc. And the Estuary has place based education where schools come to them. Get in touch with Boy/Girl Scouts, Junior Lifeguards (they earn patches the like the scouts do). Troubled youths, Camp Hope, people that need to do community service hours: contact Volunteer San Diego and tell them we need volunteers. Contact companies that encourage (and sometimes pay) their employees for volunteer work. Maybe contact church groups, Young Democrats. Southwestern College has environmental programs and a student group that might be interested. Get the birders comfortable so they can get behind the clean up, nesting season ends 9/15, need to coordinate w/ Danielle and Jim Peugh at Audubon Society. Other ways to encourage participation: offer giveaways, after party for volunteers. For Coastal Clean Up Day, I Love a Clean San Diego has inland sites, the Estuary is set up for Border Field and Sloughs, need to email the Recovery Team to see if there is any overlap.

USIBWC Citizens’ Forum: Thursday, July 16th 6:30-8:30pm at the Tijuana Estuary Meeting Room (310 Caspian Way, Imperial Beach, CA 91932) - Various Environmental Agencies speaking and public comment

US Open Sandcastle Competiton in IB - Saturday and Sunday, July 18th and 19th, 10am-5pm, Surfrider will have a booth set up and will need volunteers. Purpose is to raise awareness and education of border sewage and pollution and to recruit more volunteers and potential coalition members. Need to coordinate with Ben and Jay about getting large pictures of trash/pollution to display.

Paddle for Clean Water - Surfrider Education and Awareness Event - Sunday, September 13th 9am-5pm, No B.S. and Know Your H2O will be the featured campaigns at the event in Ocean Beach. Need to create posters and brainstorm other ideas for awareness, speakers, etc.

Green Borders Initiative - Meeting on June 29th at USD to discuss a binational vision for the Tijuana River Watershed. Key members of the coalition were in attendance to discuss issues and goals for a solution. There will be future meetings to plan for the Conference which will be held on November 18-20.

Tijuana River Valley Recovery Team Workshop - Next meeting open to public, Friday, July 31, 2009, Policy Committee Meeting, 10am-noon, SDRWQCB 9174 Sky Park Ct #100, San Diego, CA 92123 858 467 2952,

Clay Clifton: Ocean water program coordinator for city health department, notifies of contamination events, spills, runoffs etc.

The plume doesn’t cause much of the readings and smelly events since it’s three miles off shore and coming from 90 feet of water. It’s the river that’s the problem and has the worst measurements with regard to health risks and it’s only in the summer that it’s not an issue. In the winter the IBWC outfall is not considered because of the impact of the Tijuana River.

Sewage in Mexico has more surfactants (soaps, detergents) and these can’t be treated out, surfactants deplete oxygen so there are limits in US but these phosphates are still used in Mexico.

In the summer of 1998, when river flows exceeded the capacity of the river diversion, the Imperial Beach shoreline was closed to water contact for 52 days between July 1 and September 30.

3 major tasks to be done, 5-10 years with reasonable budget, state funding, raising money, what are the attainable goals?
-keep on agencies and programs, EPA 2012 program, potable water for TJ
-upgrade wastewater infrastructure in TJ
-how to facilitate what’s next on the list, watch dog capability of NGOs
-Ask what the status is of 2012 programs.
-County and city of SD - $ for routine trash and sediment removal

Suggestions for what an advocacy group can do: we can talk directly to elected officials, be aware and keep making it a priority, hold politicians accountable, bringing it out in the open. create awareness, measure problem, gear towards solution. Our groups can be the advocate, testing shows involvement and dedication, invite elected officials to go out with BWTF, show next generation and how their health and environment are connected. Focus: how to collect data and bring to elected officials and media. Links to different studies, data reports and fact sheets

3 samples are collected by the US in Mexico (northern baja) for IBWC, results sent to DEH, no public view of the samples coming from northern baja, put river data on Scripps website during wet season??

BWTF - do a testing at Dairy Mart Bridge and Hollister, follow county protocols, between December and January and give the data to the Union-Tribune, only have to test for bacteria, don’t have to have cutting edge stuff, important to get community out there and making issue more visible and make sure it stays there, keeping it going thru the winter.

Notes from meeting with Clay

-In the Summer, 96 locations of testing, 55 samples collected by DEA.

-Lots of County Politics

-No Flooding during Dry season

-EPA -> Border 2012 - Potable Water

-Wastewater Treatment Plant -> facilitate improvement of wastewater treatment.

-Need to enact watchdog efforts to keep the local politicians in check

-County, City of San Diego are stakeholders

- Montior the bacteria levels in the TJ River (Hollister Street and End of Saturn)

-Data Collectors -> John Van Ryan/ Sheri ??? - Stormwater collectors

-Need to use the spreadsheets with data that comes out of the testing - Use the test results to write letters, make videos showing the efforts we are taking to test and get people involved down there

-Elected officials do the testing with the BWTF

-Historical Data -> 1 or 2 people who can request data (Form letter and phone calls)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Officials at border hail wastewater diversion system

Mexico's discharges won't flow into U.S.

TIJUANA — Two new water treatment plants in eastern Tijuana have been praised as critical for some of the city's newest neighborhoods. But they also created a binational problem: How to keep the treated discharge from flowing across the border and harming a federally protected U.S. wetland?

Yesterday, authorities celebrated the solution – a computerized system of pumps and pipes designed to keep the treated water inside Mexican territory and deliver it to the Pacific Ocean miles south of the border at Punta Bandera.

Authorities from Mexico and the United States gathered amid tubes, pools and motors of Pump Station No. 1, a 40-year-old structure near the border fence that is now an important part of the project to divert the treated water from the United States. Officials said the solution highlighted their interdependence as they address issues in the Tijuana River watershed that spans the border.

“This is a model that we must follow in terms of cooperation between our two countries,” Baja California Gov. José Guadalupe Osuna Millán said. The state and the Mexican federal government are sharing the $5.3 million cost.

For years, cross-border sewage spills from Tijuana into San Diego County led to beach closings north of the border. While dry-weather sewage spills have largely been eradicated, wet-weather flows have continued to lead to closures.

With a combined capacity of 20 million gallons per day, the Arturo Herrera and La Morita treatment plants are key to relieving Tijuana's overburdened main facility at Punta Bandera. Arturo Herrera began operating in March; La Morita is to open later this year.

But without the diversion system, their discharges would flow into the Tijuana River channel, potentially devastating the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve in Imperial Beach. The federally protected wetland is a saltwater marsh vulnerable to freshwater flows.

Oscar Romo, coastal training director at the estuary, said the estuary's ecosystem has already been altered by some freshwater intrusion from canyons near the border. But the new system will avoid further intrusion and “would probably relieve some of those changes,” Romo said.

The new system, set to begin operating later this year, involves two parallel pipes. One will carry the treated flow to be released directly into the ocean. The second will carry wastewater for treatment at Punta Bandera. Currently all the water, treated and untreated, is sent in a single pipe to Punta Bandera.

By separating the treated water and sending it directly to the ocean, the strain on the Punta Bandera plant should be reduced.

By installing the new system, Baja California authorities are complying with a U.S.-Mexico treaty requiring that dry-weather flows not cross the border. That is necessary to obtain funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has spent nearly $40 million on sewage infrastructure projects in Tijuana and Rosarito Beach.

“If they were sending water across, this would be a violation of the . . . treaty,” said Doug Liden, an environmental engineer with the EPA in San Diego.

Osuna said Baja California officials eventually hope to pipe the treated water to the Valle de Guadalupe, the state's main grape-growing region, for irrigation.

“I hope that the efforts at cooperation with treated water and sewage collection systems and the environment could be achieved with public security, for contraband, weapons and cash,” Osuna said.

Union-Tribune Staff Writer

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Report Shows Beach Water Quality Jeopardizing Health


We may think of San Diego County's beaches as five-star attractions. But an environmental group says the water quality at many of our beaches get lower ratings. Part of the problem is the lack of testing.

The Natural Resources Defense Council tracks beach closings, advisories and water quality for more than 6,000 beaches across the country.

"This is the fourth year in a row that we've seen more than 20,000 closing advisory days across the country," says Noah Garrison, an attorney with the NRDC's water program in Los Angeles. "And what that shows us is that problems with beach water pollution are simply not going away."

He says many of us are swimming in our own sewage as runoff flows through storm drains to the ocean.

"The stormwater source essentially takes rainwater or water that comes from discharges from construction and industrial sites or even from people's sprinklers as they over water their lawns," Garrison says. "And that runoff flows into the streets and into gutters and storm drains picking up animal waste, trash and toxic pollutants before it flows out to receiving waters, the beach or lakes."

Sewage spills are another source of contamination.

Garrison says there were 460 beach closure advisories in San Diego County last year.

"That was affected by the closing of sampling programs or the reduction in monitoring programs and also by drought conditions which meant there was less rainfall," Garrison says.

He says several beaches had higher levels of bacteria and other pollutants last year than in 2007.

"The Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge is a consistent violator, upwards of 20 percent annually of the samples exceed water quality or public health standards. Also there was a number of sewage releases at Imperial Beach last year. So that's a persistent issue."

He also says Shelter Island at the San Diego Bay is another area where water quality was unhealthful last year.

NRDC's report also provides a five-star rating guide for 200 of the nation's most popular beaches.

The rating is based on indicators of beachwater quality, monitoring frequency and public notification of contamination.

No beaches in San Diego County received five stars.

But three received four stars including Pacific Beach at Grand Avenue and Oceanside municipal beach.

Garrison says funding for beach water testing is critical to let people know which areas are safe or not for swimming.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

BECC-NADB Board of Directors certifies and approves US$30 million in funding for 6 new border projects

(San Antonio, Texas) The Board of Directors of the Border Environment Cooperation Commission (BECC) and the North American Development Bank (NADB) held its semi-annual meeting today at which 6 projects totaling US$38.1 million were certified and approved to receive US$28 million in loans and an additional US$2.37 million in grants. These projects wil benefit a population of 723,546 residents of the border region.

These projects include 5 separate water and wastewater improvement projects for the Mexican communities of Tijuana and Playas de Rosarito, Baja California. The Comisión Estatal de Servicios Públicos de Tijuana, (CESPT) is responsible for providing water and wastewater services to both Tijuana and Playas de Rosarito. CESPT is undertaking 4 separate projects to expand its wastewater collection and treatment systems for the areas of Colonia Aztlán, Colonia Independencia and Colonia Lomas de Rosarito in Playas de Rosarito., as well as to expand the Rosarito I Wastewater Treatment Plant. A fifth project being undertaken by CESPT will expand the potable water system in Tijuana, including the construction of two new storage tanks with a capacity of 2.4 million gallons. The project will also expand wastewater collection in Tijuana, providing connections and new service for 15, 667 residences. All together, these projects represent a total investment of US$37.8 million by CESPT for Tijuana and Rosarito. The NADB is providing a loan for $380 million Pesos (US$27.96 million at an exchange rate of $13.59 Pesos to the Dollar). CESPT is also receiving grant funds in the amount of US$2.2 million from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Border Environment Infrastructure Fund (BEIF), administered by the NADB.

The BECC-NADB Board also certified a project for the expansion of the water distribution system in Colonia Esperanza, Chihuahua. The project, with a total cost of US$ 333, 444 will provide new waterlines, 360 new residential water connections, and will install a chlorine disinfection system. The project is receiving US$166,722 in grant funds from the EPA’s BEIF program.

Despite challenging market conditions over the last year, the BECC and NADB continued to develop, finance and construct needed infrastructure projects throughout the border region in both Mexico and the United States.

“Given the current conditions that are restricting sources of financing, the Bank, together with the BECC, is emerging as a solid alternative for financing environmental projects for the border,” stated Chairman of the Board, Lic. Ricardo Ochoa Rodríguez, Head of International Affairs Unit, Mexican Ministry of Finance and Public Credit.

The Board of Directors heard reports from the BECC and NADB, outlining recent project and financial activities, including the recent complete capitalization of the Bank by the U.S. and Mexico.

“On behalf of the United States Treasury, we welcome the final capital contributions by the United States and Mexico, which fulfill the financial obligations of our two countries to the NADB,” stated co-chairman of the Board, Karen Mathiasen, Director of the Office of Multilatral Development Banks for the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

In its 14 years of operation, BECC has certified 159 environmental infrastructure projects along the U.S.-Mexico border, which represent a total investment of approximately US$3.23 billion. NADB is providing approximately US$964.5 million in loans and grants to support 128 of those projects. BECC-certified and NADB-financed projects are estimated to be benefiting almost 12 million residents of the U.S.-Mexico border region through improved infrastructure for a cleaner environment.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Ranchers fear return of floods

With wet winter forecast, debris removal urged

If the Tijuana River Valley isn't cleared of debris by early fall, horse owners and ranchers fear they could have a repeat of last year's catastrophic flooding.

Forecasters are predicting El Niño conditions that could mean a wet, stormy winter for San Diego. The Tijuana River and its levees and flood-control channels remain clogged after moderate storms in December flooded nearby ranches and farms. The flood killed four horses and nearly a dozen goats, and ruined crops, nurseries full of plants, and barns full of hay, equipment and vehicles.

San Diego officials are working on a multiyear permit to clean up the sediment and debris in the river but say the process is complicated and involves more than just the Tijuana River Valley.

“We have attempted to find a solution to this problem because it's happening all over the city and the county,” said Jennifer Nichols Kearns, a spokeswoman for the city's Storm Water Department. “This is a master plan for a master permit to allow us to go in at any point in time, anytime there is flooding, and clean up.”

Meetings tonight and tomorrow will allow the public to view and comment on an environmental study of the Master Storm Water System Maintenance Program. The master plan will guide maintenance of all of its storm-water facilities, including natural and concrete drainage channels.

The environmental study does not address costs, and it is unclear who will pay for the cleanup. Comments may be submitted on the environmental study until Aug. 22.

Nichols Kearns said the Tijuana River Valley is a priority.

“It's considered a high-risk area,” she said. “We're very concerned about it. We know it's a sensitive issue. Last year was horrific and horrendous.”

Locals got hit from all sides Dec. 17 as clogged city and county flood-control channels, the river and its levee system diverted floodwaters onto their properties. Horse owners and emergency workers swam in gushing water while making dramatic rescues of horses and other animals.

Bruce McIntyre with Helix Environmental, a consultant working on the environmental study and master permit, said the city is trying to find ways to maintain channels while reducing impacts to wetlands habitat.

McIntyre said the process has taken a long time because several agencies are involved, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish & Wildlife and the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Maintenance has been done on a case-by-case basis, but McIntyre said the agencies pushed for a better process. A master plan would give the city a 20-year permit and allow the agencies annual input on any cleanup impacts.

John Gabledon, president of the Tijuana River Valley Equestrian Association, said he was told the permit might be issued in November or December. He said that might be too late.

“Meteorologists say an El Niño could bring normal rain, which is more than we had last year and we still flooded,” Gabledon said.

Gabledon, who boards three horses at Suncoast Farms at Hollister Street and Monument Road, said San Diego has cleaned out part of a channel but the hydrology — the way the water moves in the area — has not changed.

“The Tijuana River pilot channel is even fuller and higher than last year,” Gabledon said. “I wouldn't say horse owners are nervous, but many are taking steps to get their horses out fast.”

Emma Spurling and her husband, Mike, own the 40-acre Suncoast Farms. She said the December flooding cost them more than $10,000.

“I have an emergency plan,” Spurling said. “My clients know where their horses are to go. We have temporary corrals on high ground. We have a neighbor who's offered her arena.”

Gabledon said if it rains as much or more than last year, it could be devastating.

“There would definitely be loss of animal life and possibly human life,” Gabledon said. “We'd like to prevent that.”


Storm Water Maintenance public meetings

When: 6 to 7 p.m. today and tomorrow

Today: Valencia Park/Malcolm X Library, 5148 Market St., San Diego

Tomorrow: Nobel Recreation Center, 8810 Judicial Drive, San Diego

Agenda: Information provided on maintenance program; comments accepted.


By Janine Zúñiga (Union Tribune)