Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Seven miles to Mexico

The group is Tijuana River Network. The mission, adjusted a few times, but seemingly decided, is … “To support the conservation and restoration of the Tijuana River Watershed though education, outreach, and advocacy without borders.”

The group met in Playas de Tijuana last Saturday, March 27, at the quaint Café Aquamarino. Representatives from Fundacion la Puerta, Proyecto Fronterizo, Fundacion Que Transforma, Alter Terra, Surfrider, Border Encuentro, Grupo Ecologista Tijuana, Tijuana Calidad de Vida, Tijuana Estuary, WILDCOAST, and the hospitable hostess and owner of the cafe, Carmen Romo, gathered to share and collect ideas.

The purpose of the meeting was to unite the efforts of Mexico and U.S. governments, citizens and environmental activists and to create change for the polluted condition of the beaches, river valley, the waters and the ecological lives that are shared between the two. People are refusing to allow the area to become no man’s land. With persistence, anything is possible. With more voices, persistence will be heard.

California and Mexico share a unique relationship – geographical neighbors with different sized bank accounts. The good thing about black and white issues is the gray space in between. The gray area is where commonality will bring change to the area. I was one of two people who spoke basically zero Spanish, but Oscar Romo of TJ River National Estuarine Research Reserve, for our benefit, two out of 14 people, gave his entire presentation in English.

Compromise and respect was abundant in the group’s conversations. Sincere smiles, hugs and besos were plentiful. The walls of Carmen’s café are a soft turquoise; nothing stands between her windows and brilliant views of the ocean. Smells of coffee and teas infused with flowers swirled together with the salty air blowing in off the Pacific. Standing there, taking it all in, for just a moment we forgot that the water in front of us contained high levels of sewage. We forgot that ocean lives would be lost due to plastic ingestion. We forgot that trash would float down into the waves, carrying tires and children’s shoes. We remember though the water test results and the reasons why we crossed the border. We want to believe that every ocean should be brilliant blue - like Carmen's walls - but they are not.

This group is about being a good neighbor. We know that when we help Mexico advance, we advance our own lives. Neighbors choose what kind of relationship they are going to have with the other. The TJ River Network is going to share and take turns; the next meeting will be on the U.S. side. Numbers will help this cause, show up; we can get this thing rolling.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sewage from Tijuana River Fouling Southbay Beaches

SAN DIEGO - An influx of sewage from the Tijuana River prompted an ocean contamination warning stretching from the U.S.-Mexico border to the northern limits of Imperial Beach Tuesday.

Field measurements indicating northward-flowing pollution near the mouth of the Tijuana Estuary prompted the alert, according to the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health.

Signs cautioning the public about the contamination will stand along the affected beaches until follow-up tests determine that they are safe again for recreational uses, the DEH advised.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Dead Seal

Within a five foot square of Imperial Beach, I found a soft green piece of sea glass, an electric cordless beard shaver – without metal blades – an indistinguishable plastic toy-thing, and the approximately, two-week old carcass of a once brown Seal – eyes gone. I made phone calls. Seals are federally protected: dead or alive. (I’m new to this, bear with me.)

“It is the responsibility of the planet to take the seal,” the woman stated. She works with a local protect-the-seal group. I agree that it is. However, it seems the planet’s slacking off on its responsibilities and shouldn’t the Seal be allowed a decent burial. Don’t we all deserve that much? Does anyone have a small boat, could you just drag its body out a little bit and let its life disperse with dignity?

The Seal waits on the rocks at the southernmost end of Sea Coast Dr. Two people and some rope, forget the boat. It had a life just as we do; it’s now gone, as ours will be too. I know all of you here feel a part of the ocean. Salt water runs through our veins too. Two people, tops.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Borderline Wasteland

It is Paradise Lost-by-the-Sea. Milton's mouth of hell is the Tijuana River's mouth of pollution. California's southernmost waterway has become the River Styx.

Our El Niño rains have once again brought back the gurgling, churning river choked with tires, trash, dead animals and sewage. A concoction straight from Hades, the toxic stew courses through the Tijuana Estuary and out into the Pacific. Paradise trashed.

WildCoast/Costa Salvaje, Dr. Serge Dedina's visionary bi-national environmental coalition, is on the side of the angels. After years of finger pointing and recrimination among leaders and citizens of Tijuana and San Diego, WildCoast has made inroads building a bilingual, hands-across-the-border movement.

It is a slow journey, however, and Mother Earth is paying a heavy price. Border State Park is just one example of this devastation. A recent tire cleanup rounded up enough rubber to open a mid-sized shop.

San Diego has played a shameful role in the pollution of our beautiful oceans with its overmatched sewers and street run-off. Worse still is the Tijuana River which has, for years, been a snaking liquid dump. Heavy rains wash trash and sewage from Tijuana hillsides across the border and into the river, where it travels through the estuary to the sea.

Visiting Border Field State Park can be an overwhelmingly emotional experience. This is not going to change until a much-debated filtering system is built in the Tijuana River to clean water before it flows through Imperial Beach. For years politicians in Sacramento, Mexicali, Mexico City and Washington D.C. have paid lip service to a proposal by a group of entrepreneurs who call themselves Bajagua, but neither side will accept responsibility or put up the money to build it. The devil is in the details.

Both nations are at fault. For this problem to ever find a solution, an international contract should be signed between Mexico and the United States.

America should split the cost for the filtering system even if most of the pollutants come from Mexico. Estuary inhabitants are being placed in harm's way. Animals are in danger daily with the all the trash being dumped into the river.

Enter WildCoast on the proverbial white horse. Dedina, a bilingual Ph.D.-surfer who loves Mexico, represents the solution. Energized young people from both nations have already paid dividends and are working to save the whale breeding sanctuary Scanlins Lagoon. WildCoast is now diving into-figuratively, of course-the polluted waters of the Tijuana River. Rule #1 of WildCoast is "no finger pointing." Dedina and his crew focus on looking forward with a positive attitude and a willingness to work.

People travel to San Diego as a vacation spot and clean water should be a top priority to all businesses and community residents. Tourists do not come to San Diego to see signs on the beaches warning of potentially fatal toxins in the water.

Health clinics in Imperial Beach provide free hepatitis shots for surfers and swimmers due to the vile state of the beaches. That is noble, but sad.

Bob Dylan once said, "Get out of the way if you can't lend a hand." WildCoast is lending a hand and could use our help.

Hope and help could be the only things that can really fix the devastating state of the Tijuana River and its estuary. It is time to fix this very fixable problem--and quickly.

To volunteer at WildCoast/Costa Salvaje contact the organization at: WildCoast, 925 Seacoast Drive, Imperial Beach CA 91932. Phone: (619) 423-8665.

From the Southwestern Sun by Cody Yarbro

Monday, March 15, 2010

SD allowed to continue ocean disposal of sewage

— The California Coastal Commission agreed to alter the terms of San Diego's sewage treatment permit, allowing the city to continue to pump 50 billion gallons of partly treated sewage deep into the Pacific Ocean each year.

The panel voted Friday that the city can avoid the recommendations made by a $2 million study of wastewater recycling options.

The amended permit also removes language that suggested San Diego's disposal of sewage into the ocean could be creating environmental problems.

The city is operating its Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant under a waiver from the U.S. Clean Water Act granted by the Coastal Commission in October. It's the third time the city has obtained a waiver from meeting federal standards for treatment of sewage.

The commission's decision was a "victory for all San Diegans," a spokesman for Mayor Jerry Sanders told the Union-Tribune.

The recycling study had examined adding expensive secondary sewage treatment to remove water from the sewage, and use it for landscaping at parks and golf courses. San Diego is the only major California city not required to use secondary treatment, and numerous coastal cities use expensive tertiary treatment to extract and recycle irrigation water from some of its sewer plants.

The Point Loma facility processes sewage from more than 2.2 million people in and around the city and sends solids into the ocean.

The permit was altered Friday to remove requirements that the city reduce the volume of sewage not fully treated before discharge. Left in place were requirements that the city continue to investigate wastewater reclamation and recycling.

The Associated Press

Comment time extended for Navy’s strand plans

Sunday, March 14, 2010 at 4:01 a.m.

CORONADO — After hearing from concerned residents and local city officials, the Navy is extending the public comment period on its proposal to vastly increase activity at the Silver Strand Training Complex between Coronado and Imperial Beach.
The deadline is now March 30. The original deadline was Tuesday.
At two public hearings last month, several residents told Navy officials they were just hearing about the plans and hadn’t had time to read an 800-page Environmental Impact Statement the service conducted that outlines the potential impacts on their communities.
Coronado and Imperial Beach each formally requested an extension, arguing that those interested in commenting on the large document, which took 10 years to complete, needed more than the allotted 45 days.
“That’s good news,” Imperial Beach City Manager Gary Brown said Friday upon learning of the extension. “It’s just such a massive document.”
The Navy said it wanted to “give local communities, citizens and organizations additional time to review the entire document and submit comments.”
Navy officials say they need to improve the availability and quality of training at its complex, and to prepare for future requirements. The Navy plans to increase use of the 540-acre complex where land, beach and offshore training has been conducted for more than 60 years.
The Navy proposes an increase in activities along the Silver Strand to 5,343 from 3,926 annually. The number of helicopter sorties would increase to 2,200 from 778 a year and firearm discharges would rise to 1,400 from 150.
Coronado and Imperial Beach both submitted initial concerns about traffic, noise and beach access, and each said it would take another look at the environmental study and possibly submit additional comments.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Achieving water security by becoming water self-sufficient

Many experts are projecting gloomy scenarios of decreasing water supplies and increasing costs, yet the San Diego/Tijuana Region can easily become renewable water self-sufficient and even develop into a net water exporter.

Even if we assume the worst case scenario of zero precipitation and the complete cutoff of all imported water, the region could completely replace all the freshwater currently used by installing solar panels over 4.3 percent of roofs and parking lots. In 2015, 4.3 percent of our region’s roofs and parking lots will be about 9 sq. miles, or 4.5 sq. miles on each side of the border.

The above statement is based on the following assumptions:

1. Yearly average of five hours of sunlight per day

2. 1,000 sq. feet of roof and parking lot per capita

3. Average potable water consumption level of 180 gallons per capita each day

4. Regional population of 6 million people in 2015

5. Assumption that 70 gallons of freshwater can be extracted from seawater per kWh of electricity consumed through reverse osmosis (RO)

6. PV (photovoltaic) panels 15 percent efficient at converting sunlight into electricity (Commercially available panels are already pushing efficiencies of 20 percent or better).

The electricity produced by this system would be used to power large scale reverse osmosis (RO) pumps to convert seawater into freshwater. The pumps push seawater through filters that let in freshwater while excluding salt, other minerals and contaminants in general.

The issue of sucking marine life into reverse osmosis systems can be solved if seawater to be processed into freshwater is extracted from wells close to the ocean above high tide instead of direct ocean extraction. Since seawater coming into such wells would be sand filtered, marine organisms will be eliminated from the process.

Similarly, since “waste water” from the RO process will be twice as salty as seawater, it will have to be diluted by mixing it with seawater— also extracted from the nearby ocean wells— until the water to be returned to the ocean is no more than 20 percent saltier than seawater. Once diluted, its release into the ocean would be defused as an additional precaution against negative ecological consequences. Other sand filtering technologies have also been proposed.

Mining RO waste water for salt and other minerals opens up other local business and employment opportunities for the region and could potentially eliminate the need to return RO wastewater to the ocean at all.

The impact of the “worst case scenario” RO system discussed above could be cut in half if recycled sewage water was filtered, disinfected and used for irrigation. Using gray water at home would also be a plus for efficient water use. This is because half of the potable water currently used in our region is used for irrigating landscaping and crops.

Water-use efficiency improvements could reduce the role of renewable energy-powered RO as well.

By combining water recycling and efficient water use with better rainwater runoff collection and storage systems, our region would only need to install 15 percent efficient PV panels on 2 percent of its roofs and parking lots to provide equal or superior water use services in the future, compared with what we have today. Plus, if we want more freshwater, we can cover more roofs and parking lots with PV panels to power expanded RO capacity and create all the freshwater we want.

Additionally, all this can be funded through a water purchase agreement model that will pay for itself by redirecting the dollars we now export to pay for imported water into hiring local businesses and workers to make our region renewable water self-sufficient, with renewable energy powered RO being our back-up for water if all else fails.

by Jim Bell

Jim Bell is an internationally-recognized expert on life support sustaining development. His projects include the design and construction of the San Diego Center for Appropriate Technology and Ecoparque, a prototype wastewater recycling plant in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. Currently, he serves as Director of the Ecological Life Systems Institute and the San Diego Center for Appropriate Technology, and as representative of the Sierra Club on the City of San Diego’s Regional Advisory Energy Committee. Jim has more than 40 years experience in the design and construction industry and ran for Mayor of San Diego in 1996 and 2000, as well as 2nd District City Council in 2002. The views expressed here are his own.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Imperial Beach - Property owners claim threat to property but forget to mention their seawalls and development caused loss of beach

The article below is typical. A property owner builds too close to an eroding shoreline and then blames waves and tides for threatening their home. In the meantime, because they built this house an eroding coastline the beach has completely disappeared in front of their wall and home. The beach needs to shift landward but it cannot. Now the beach is gone. That is the real tragedy here. Nobody except Surfrider will fight to save that beach. - Jim Jaffee

IMPERIAL BEACH — All that remains of a small, sandy beachfront yard once filled with lounge chairs and a fire pit are precariously stacked, protective boulders that residents of a four-unit Imperial Beach condominium complex say have sunk up to 10 feet.A particularly damaging mix of high tides and high surf and a growing number of winter storms have stripped the sand from much of Imperial Beach, resulting in an emergency situation for Bill and Marty Arbuckle and their neighbors on Ocean Lane. They have asked the city to permit them to temporarily protect their condos with special 6-by-6-foot sandbags.“This is the first time since we’ve lived here that we’ve had this kind of a problem,” Bill Arbuckle said last week from his home of 12 years as wisps of water from crashing waves reached his second-story sliding-glass door.Imperial Beach officials, who approved the condominium owners’ request for temporary shoreline protection, say the problem isn’t limited to those at the condominiums.“Shoreline erosion is a constant in our city but we’ve had consistent high storm and high tide events since December,” said Community Development Director Greg Wade. “Encinitas, Carlsbad and other coastal cities are having similar issues. The surf is so consistently high, there is no time for sand to settle back on the beach, which provides protection.”Read the entire article: