Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cross-Border Researchers Look For Message In Bottles

Last week's storms drenched Tijuana and forced more than 160 people from their homes. But the rain has helped a group of researchers who want to extend the life of San Diego's Tijuana Estuary.

The researchers have stationed themselves in a Tijuana canyon called Los Laureles.

It's a few miles from the border fence. About 80,000 people live there.

Since Monday, researchers have released more than 160 plastic bottles into the torrents of rainwater coursing through the canyon. That rainwater drains down into the Tijuana River Estuary.

Oscar Romo is the lead researcher on the project. He says they'll map the bottles' final resting places.

"So, the map would show me the plume of both where the solids and trash are going," Romo said.

Romo says that will help create a strategy to reduce storm impact on the estuary and the Tijuana neighborhoods in Los Laureles Canyon.

He says the study will help officials on both sides of the border know what infrastructure is needed to contain trash, sediment and runoff.

Romo hopes to apply the bottle study to other Tijuana canyons that also drain into the Tijuana River Estuary.

By Amy Isackson


Monday, January 25, 2010

Storms trash Calif. beaches, bring snow to AZ, NM

SEAL BEACH, Calif. - The sky was blue and the sun bright for the first time in days after a week of powerful Southern California rain storms, but all Victoria Macey could see was the mountain of steaming trash and twisted debris on her favorite beach.

"I'm completely shocked. From our house, all we could see was gorgeous clouds and then we come down here and there's so much trash, it's really sad," Macey said as she photographed a sopping plastic baby doll propped atop an overturned end table. "I can't believe how many shopping carts there are. That's what blows my mind."

The mounds of soggy sofa cushions, rusted shopping carts, plastic children's toys, dented refrigerators and hundreds of plastic cans and food wrappers were just one calling card left by a week of punishing rain that pelted Southern California and went on to tangle with Arizona and New Mexico.

About 35 miles to the north of Seal Beach, hundreds of residents who evacuated from wildfire-scarred communities in the San Gabriel Mountain foothills north of Los Angeles returned home Saturday to assess the damage and remove mud and debris from their properties. There were no reports of major damage despite widespread concerns about mudslides and debris flows from the relentless rain.

About half of the 500 residents of a small western Arizona farming community who were evacuated after floodwaters swept through the town Thursday, returned Saturday. Muddied streets and damaged homes and businesses remained, and La Paz County sheriff's spokesman Lt. Glenn Gilbert said the community was in cleanup mode. Many said they were happy to survive the storm.

On Saturday, the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office announced the body of 6-year-old Jacob Baudek, who was swept away by rising by floodwaters in central Arizona Thursday, was spotted by hikers along the Agua Fria River and recovered from the river bank.

At higher elevations, forecasters warned of blowing and drifting snow and issued winter weather and wind advisories for southern New Mexico, with heavy snow expected in the Gila and Sacramento mountains. In the Guadalupe Mountains of southeastern New Mexico, wind gusts could top 90 mph on Saturday. More than 2 feet of snow have fallen in the Chama area in northern New Mexico, while parts of southwestern New Mexico got 27 inches of snow.

In Northern California, a rare tornado warning was issued Saturday in the San Francisco Bay area's Contra Costa County after a trained weather spotter reported seeing a funnel cloud. The National Weather Service said the cloud was seen about 9 miles south of Oakley, but it weakened without touching down and the agency's warning expired.

Harsh winter weather also hit the Dakotas, where thousands of people were without power after icy weather toppled miles of power lines. A winter storm carrying freezing rain and snow pushed through the region with blizzardlike conditions expected to develop over the weekend and into Monday.

Another smaller storm was forecast for Southern California beginning Tuesday evening and would last about two days, said National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Vanderburg.

But that storm was the farthest thing from the minds of weather-weary Southern Californians, who ventured to the region's famous beaches by the dozens on Saturday to bask in the sunshine and balmy temperatures. Many were shocked to find the trash from the storm's urban run-off and picked gingerly through tangled garbage to reach the water.

Fifty-two cities in the Los Angeles metropolitan area drain into the San Gabriel River bed and litter and garbage flow tens of miles to the ocean each time there's a heavy rain, said Kim Masoner, who founded Save Our Beach 10 years ago to combat the problem. Earlier, the couple worked with more than 1,400 volunteers to remove 12 large trash bins of debris from the river's mouth.

On Saturday, Steve Masoner pulled a waist-high white plastic rocking horse from the mess and propped it on the rocks lining the river mouth. His wife added a soggy Spiderman doll and a cracked SpongeBob SquarePants bike helmet and a swimming pool skimmer to the pile before helping her husband wrestle apart two shopping carts.

Similar scenes played out on beaches in Long Beach, Newport Beach and San Diego where the Los Angeles, Santa Ana and Tijuana rivers empty into the sea. Many surfers said they would avoid the water because of concerns about bacteria from storm run-off.

Meanwhile, the Surfrider Foundation canceled its beach cleanups through the end of the month near the Tijuana River because the hazardous waste created too much of a liability.

"Even if they do have gloves and masks, it's too dangerous," Dan Murphy, of Surfrider, said of the beach volunteers. "Whatever the trash is on the beach, it's been flowing in the sewage and it's covered with the stuff."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tijuana River residents prepare for the worst

Click here for the video and here's a link to some photos taken on Jan 19th and 20th.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Network Meeting Minutes from Jan 13th

January, 13th, 2010
Present: Surfrider, T.R.C.C., Proyecto Fronterizo, Fundacion la Puerta, WiLDCOAST
Next Meeting: February 18th , 2010 at 6:30pm at WiLDCOAST office

Visions for this Network:
Better collaboration between all parties, power outreach, access to information, keeping the issue at forefront. Improvement of the Tijuana River Valley on water quality, trash and sediment, the problem has no barriers, it is one bio-region, one watershed. More cleanups and water quality transparency in information by CESPT. More outreach and education. To have a shared purpose, responsibility, and awareness through community action

Decision making process:
By consensus agreement

Organizations that will be involved
Proyecto fronterizo
Fundacion la puerta

Potential new organizations to be recruited:
Border meetup
I love a clean San Diego
Tijuana Calidad de Vida

Communication process: we discussed using social networking such as Facebook, Twitter and SMS texting externally and via a list serve internally.

Network goal
To renew Tijuana river by working together for a solution giving a voice to the community by engaging in cleanups, outreach, education and advocacy to address the root cause of the Tijuana River pollution.

Common themes discussed throughout meeting:
Prevention support: Maquiladora pollution, find alternative and innovative solutions at source
Contacting our representatives
Social networking as a means to engage new people

Network should engage in:
Bi-national cleanups: Have all of our cleanups be bi-national
Community outreach and education to schools: kids for clean water, PROBEA, colleges and universities
Advocacy training: bi-national social engagement by elected officials, how to write letters etc.

Things to work on for next meeting:
Names for the network
Who we will be the lead from your organization
One pager for bullet point platform

Next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, February 18th at 6:30pm, WiLDCOAST offices in Imperial Beach

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Water Pollution Cop

Dave Gibson is the new chief of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, the agency that's responsible for enforcing federal and state clean water laws locally. He took over the top spot in November from John Robertus, who retired.

He's in charge of the agency that monitors, regulates and occasionally fines those who discharge into local waterways -- from sewage treatment plants to shipyards. Gibson, a former entomologist who's worked at the board for a decade, is now the region's top water pollution cop.

His agency is coordinating the long-stalled cleanup of toxic sediment in San Diego Bay, an effort that it recently scaled back, drawing criticism from those who've advocated for a thorough cleanup of the old pollution from industry and government. It's also been involved in addressing one of the region's longest-standing, largest pollution problems: the litter, dirt and sewage from Mexico that sweeps into the Tijuana River Valley with each winter rainfall, fouling the coastline from Imperial Beach to Coronado.

We sat down to talk about the health of the region's waterways, bay and border pollution and whether he'd eat a fish caught in San Diego Bay.

Why did the board back off on the amount of toxic sediment it's requiring removal of from San Diego Bay?

I don't consider it backing off, I consider it a more surgical approach. When we did a more rigorous analysis, we found that by reducing the footprint we could remove the vast majority of contaminated sediments that were contributing to impairment of San Diego Bay. In other sections of the shipyard the contaminated sediments were buried at significant depth. They're essentially locked up.

How deep?

As much as eight feet. As long as the area's not dredged and ship traffic doesn't disturb it, that material is safe where it is. We took a rigorous analysis of what it would take to remove the most toxic sediments, where we could be assured of having an actual cleanup, in real-time, in the foreseeable future, without a lot of legal impediments along the way. That's a significant factor. It may not be perfect, but it's certainly protective of water quality.

Most importantly, we don't just check it one time and walk away. There's a monitoring program that the responsible parties will implement. They're charged with diagnosing whether the cleanup has been effective.

If the parties who are responsible for the pollution -- and they're the parties who're also fighting the cleanup effort -- are charged with monitoring their own mess and figuring out whether they've triggered the need for a greater cleanup of their own mess, isn't that a case of the fox watching the henhouse?

It is. However, it's what the law allows us to do. Self-monitoring reports are firmly established in the federal Clean Water Act. We've used them in this region since the 1970s. We've very rarely found deliberate obfuscation in those reports. I suspect the parties simply believe it's legally risky to do that. They may not offer information if we don't ask for it, but the information is submitted under penalty of perjury.

Would you eat a fish caught in the bay today?

I would, but I wouldn't do it very often. And I'd be cautious about what I ate. It's extremely important in this process that we do the socially responsible thing and protect not only the ability of industries on the bay to do business, we also have to ensure that the person who chooses to fish on the bay and eat that fish every single day can do that safely without compromising his or her health.

Does this cleanup do that?

It does that. But it's one part of a bay that has many sites that are contaminated. There are many sites around San Diego Bay that were affected going back to the early 1900s. Those legacy pollutants are difficult and problematic to address, but we have to do it.

Your predecessor, John Robertus, led an effort to deal with some of the trash coming across the border into the Tijuana River Valley. Do you plan to continue? And as a region, can we ever expect that issue to be solved?

Yes and yes. Our agency's long been aware of the issues in the Tijuana River Valley. We took a stand on sewage -- it had afflicted residents for long enough. We also need to address trash and sediment. We can address the symptoms of the problem. We can't change what happens in Mexico. I think in the long run we'll see solutions to those problems. But there's a difference between a problem and a dilemma. You can solve a problem, not a dilemma. The trans-border issue of sediment and trash, the economic disparities, all amount to significant dilemmas. We can't simply solve them -- but we can address them on our side of the border.

Over time, there's certainly been progress addressing border pollution. Beaches in Imperial Beach aren't closed in summer any more. Are there metrics to track success going forward? Not having to do tire cleanups as frequently as volunteers do?

Flood control is one metric. It's a significant problem. Being able to remove certain sediments that have exacerbated flooding is another. Then there's the trash. And anyone who's seen the photographs can see the magnitude -- enormous amounts of plastic debris. Being able to track the reduction over time, and the amount of effort that (Imperial Beach-based environmental group) Wildcoast has to go into to remove it, is another useful metric.

Give San Diego County's water quality a grade. How clean is the water in our streams, waterways and ocean?

That is really the most important question and one of the more difficult ones to answer. The health, what we've been able to find so far, is not very good. It's not what I hoped it would be. When we look at water chemistry in our watersheds, we see a significant amount of impairment. We recently added over 100 water bodies to the list of impaired water bodies. It keeps growing.

When we look at the biological integrity of our rivers and streams, as we've done over the last 10 years, about 78 percent of the sites assessed scored poor or very poor. When we look at the biology of the streams, they tell us they're not doing particularly well. It's a question of how we change our activities on land so that we're more protective of water quality.

Is that a failing grade for the county?

I don't think it's a failing grade for the county any more than it is for much of the nation. It is one of those dilemmas. When we do things on land, it has impacts on water quality. We cannot live and do business and have an economy and not have impacts on water quality. We have to manage that dilemma. That's the fundamental mission of the regional board.

Though there's growing evidence of trace amounts of endocrine disruptors, personal care products and drugs in our ocean and waterways, they're not regulated by the state or federal government. Should they be? Or what questions need to be answered first?

They certainly will be regulated. I think we're probably five to 10 years away from seeing real regulation of those products. But the methods for analysis (of those chemicals) are still under development. It's not a matter of taking a jar of water into the lab and analyzing it. For some of these products, we don't have that analytical method yet to use in a regulatory context.

-- Interview conducted and edited by ROB DAVIS

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Tire Removal at Border Field State Park

January 5th was the first of two tire removal projects at Border Field State Park. Many thanks to the volunteers that showed up to help and Chris Peregin and Danielle Litke of the Tijuana Estuary for coordinating the event. The second is this Friday, Jan 8th (Contact Danielle Litke at dlitke@parks.ca.gov or 619-575-3613 x 330 for further info.) Click here for more photos.

TJ River Valley Water Quality Monitoring

Click here for more pictures from the last testing. Next one is Sat. Jan 16th. Contact Dan@surfridersd.org and adrian.alexander79@gmail.com for more information and to sign up.