Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Next Monthly Tijuana River Action Network Meeting

Next Monthly Tijuana River Action Network Meeting (every last Wednesday) - Wednesday June 30th at 6:00pm - Tijuana Estuary Training Center 301 Caspian Way, Imperial Beach, CA 91932.
Cross-border collaboration to address the conservation and restoration of the Tijuana River watershed by engaging in outreach, education, and being advocates for natural resources. Network meetings are a great way to meet and share ideas with staff and volunteers from Fundacion la Puerta, Proyecto Fronterizo, Fundacion Que Transforma, Alter Terra, Surfrider Foundation, Border Encuentro, Grupo Ecologista Tijuana, Tijuana Calidad de Vida, Tijuana Estuary, WiLDCOAST, Tijuana River Citizens’ Council and more. Volunteers and community members are welcome and encouraged to attend!

Environmental Issues Hurting Communities in the U.S.-Mexico Border Region

By Regina Ip
The United States and Mexico share a 2000-mile border where a population of 9 million is growing more than twice as fast as the populations of U.S. and Mexico.
Despite this growing population, the border region is confronted with many environmental health issues because of the lack of clean drinking water and proper health care. Even more, five out of the seven poorest communities in the country is in the border region. More than 35 percent of its population is living in poverty.
The living conditions in the area are in dire need of help. From weak social communities to inadequate building infrastructures, where there is no running water, sewage systems or electricity, the U.S.-Mexico border region faces many detrimental environmental health issues that cannot be fixed with the shortage of health care professionals or the stigma associated with the area.
“Almost everywhere you go in this world, there are people or groups of people that experience environmental injustices,” Paula Stigler said. “They are often low-income and people of color who do not have a voice and therefore are exposed unjustly to contamination in both their community and their workplaces.”
Stigler, who is the environmental program manager and tribal liaison for The San Diego Foundation, has been working on environmental issues, like water monitoring, with indigenous communities in San Diego County and Mexico for about ten years.
She has worked with various people including tribal health community promoters in remote tribal communities in Baja CA Mexico, local San Diego tribal environmental programs, communities in CaƱon de los Laureles (Goat Canyon) in Tijuana and elsewhere.
Currently, Stigler is earning her doctorate in global health at UCSD/SDSU. She is currently interested in studying how climate change and its policies will affect susceptible populations in the border region.
The severity of the environmental health problems parallels those found in Third World countries. In addition to the underrepresented communities in the border region, many other residents are living in poor conditions. In some cases, there is no clean water for food, like drinking and cooking, or for hygienic purposes like bathing and washing. Even more, there is no basic sewage system to maintain wastes.
Because of this, residents have a much higher chance of catching waterborne and infectious diseases, such as salmonella infections, mosquito-transmitted malaria, measles and tuberculosis. Considered as a place where many people from different countries pass through often, about an average of 1.6 million per day, the health of those living in the border region confronts a national concern.
According to Stigler, some of the border cities do not follow safe air standards. Hazardous waste is a big problem as the border region becomes more industrialized.
New River, which runs down the inland region of Southern California, is the most polluted river in the United States. It has more than 100 industrial chemicals and 76 million liters of raw sewage passes through the river each day.
The rate of tuberculosis is twice the national rate. The rate of Hepatitis A is three times the rate of United States’ and two times the rate of Mexico’s. Salmonella and shigella dysentary is four times the rate of U.S. and Mexico.
Stigler develops workshops and speaks at community meetings on how residents can protect themselves from harmful contaminants in drinking water and in the environment. At these workshops, she calls attention to problems like poor drinking water.
“When looking at exposure to poor drinking water, it’s often a concern for waterborne pathogens and dehydration from gastrointestinal problems,” Stigler said. “This is especially problematic for children and the elderly. Since environmental health deals with so many different issues [like] air, trash, food, water, there are many health concerns [such as] cancer from exposure to dangerous chemicals, asthma from poor air quality [and] lead poisoning from exposure to lead in homes.
Stigler said that the current methods to solve the problem of poor water resources are not enough.
“Drinking water infrastructure was brought to communities in Mexico, however after assessing the decrease in gastrointestinal problems within the communities, my research found that the water was still contaminated due to unsafe storage practices in the homes and a lack of disinfection in the system.”
Stigler has formed the Tribal Environmental Health Collaborative, which is made up of tribal representatives, tribal NGO’s and universities that are assessing the top priorities for tribes in San Diego on environmental health and also trying to find funding to address their problems.
She said that, with the San Diego tribal environmental health collaborative project (TEHC), it’s difficult to measure the success of the drinking water infrastructure.
In addition, there is the issue of cultural competence in environmental health initiatives.
With the services that help tackle the issue, there are cultural conflicts in language and views on how to interpret natural elements, like water, which is considered sacred and represents nature.
“Cultural conflicts arise often due to a misunderstanding of how different communities and governments operate. When working binational there are language and communication barriers as well as cultural differences that can make the work challenging,” Stigler said.
“One thing I noticed was that while in the US we are accustomed to accomplishing many tasks via email and non-personal contact, in many other communities the face-to-face method is obligatory and works best for them,” Stigler said. One aspect of the language barrier involves the different approaches to communication that make it difficult to maintain regular contact. “Recognizing this is critical to having successful projects.”
Besides the language barriers, Stigler also comes across other communication challenges because of what technologies are used to communicate and how the political hierarchies work in the community. Understanding and respecting tribal sovereignty is very important.
“Politics is always an issue. Communication is probably the second biggest issue whether it be that calling internationally is not always easy or the same language isn’t spoken is a huge challenge.” Stigler said. “Also, a lack of understanding about the issues, the politics around those issues and no resources to address the problems. Many people are stretched so thin in addressing these problems and the resources are so slim that it can be really difficult to keep projects going.”
Despite the cultural challenges, the attempts to address and solve the environmental health issues have made some impact.
“Many tribes are now more aware of health and environmental concerns and beginning to address them through their tribal governments, which is a huge step in the right direction.”
Stigler will continue to work as a program manager to bring environmental awareness to local tribes.
“I hope to continue to work with non-profits who are fighting environmental injustices in our region and globally,” she said.
Those who are interested in helping can volunteer or donate to numerous organizations who are working on the issues, such as Environmental Health Coalition and the Native American Environmental Protection Coalition.
“There are many projects and groups that advocate for environmental injustices. I have worked with the US and Mexican governments both to help bring clean drinking water to communities in Mexico and have also received funding from foundations to organize tribes to assess and advocate for addressing environmental health priorities in their communities.”
Regina Ip is a public information intern with the Comprehensive Research Center in Health Disparities (CRCHD) and is majoring in Communications and Biology at UC San Diego. The CRCHD is a partnership of organizations focusing on community health and health disparities research. This publication was supported by the UC San Diego Comprehensive Research Center in Health Disparities Grant # 5 P60 MD000220 from the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities, National Institutes of Health.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Waiter, There's a Metal Rod in My Sand

In 2005, surfers and beachgoers in Imperial Beach noticed that chunks of rock, mangled metal rods and other debris were washing up on the shore.
The problem started, they said, not long after the federal government dumped 250,000 cubic yards of sand near the shoreline of the city's beaches. (That's enough to fill up 12 percent of Qualcomm Stadium.)
The Army Corps of Engineers had dredged the sand from the San Diego Bay floor as part of a project to clear the way for large vessels. The federal agency made an agreement with Imperial Beach to dispose of the sediment near its shores.
The city's beaches are constantly losing sand to erosion, and city officials saw the project as an opportunity to replenish the sand they say is important for attracting tourists. But surfers and environmentalists said the sand was contaminated.
Five years later, the city is gearing up to enter into a similar agreement with the Army Corps to bring as much as 300,000 cubic yards of sand to Imperial Beach. Last month, it asked the Port of San Diego to provide $1.8 million for two sand replenishment projects. It wants to give $1.1 million to the Army Corps of Engineers and $700,000 to a second project planned by the San Diego Association of Governments.
Environmentalists fear contaminated sand might once again be dumped on Imperial Beach and say the city has given them little chance to weigh in on the project's fate.
Greg Wade, the city's community development director, said plans to fund the Army Corps project would depend on several factors, including how much money the city gets from the Port and how the city can best leverage its money to get more sand.
Wade said a plan to keep debris out of dredged sand was not implemented before the Army Corps' earlier project, which may have explained the contamination, but that the city would be more vigilant this time around.
He said the City Council would review the project's environmental assessment and ensure that measures to prevent contamination -- like inspecting the sand on the dredge boat and running it through a grate to filter out debris -- were included in the plans.
The Army Corps' current project will dredge the channel entry to San Diego Bay off the tip of Point Loma, not in the heavily trafficked bay where sediment contamination is more likely.
"The fact that it's in the entrance channel gives me some comfort," Wade said. "The possibility of that type of material in the sediment is less likely."
Those differences provide little comfort to Serge Dedina, a local surfer and executive director of Wildcoast, a nonprofit environmental group based in Imperial Beach. He questions why the city, which is primarily interested in sand, would help pay for a federal project whose main purpose is to clear vessel routes of excess sediment and to dispose of sand as an afterthought.
Scott John, manager for the Army Corps' $1.4 million project, said the dredging does not depend on additional funding from Imperial Beach. But if the city pays for the sand -- giving the Corps more money -- the agency could dredge deeper and lengthen the time before the agency has to return to maintain the area.
"It's common for some of our projects to enter into cost sharing agreements and for other agencies to split the cost of dredging in exchange for the sand," John said.
The agreement would guarantee the sand would be delivered to Imperial Beach instead of another dump site near Coronado.
Without cost-sharing agreements, John said, the Army Corps usually disposes of sand at the nearest available dump site to save on transport costs.
Dedina's concerns are pitted against the cash-strapped city's desire to attract more tourists and generate greater tax revenue. Sand acts as a buffer between battering waves and coastal development and also makes the city's beaches attractive to visitors.
City officials say most of Imperial Beach's sand historically came from sediment that washed in from the mouth of the Tijuana River. But that natural, recurring source was eliminated when the river was dammed. The city has had to find other ways to replenish its beaches from erosion caused by storms and the flow of currents in the area that carry sand from Imperial Beach north toward Coronado.
"We basically have been fighting for every project," said Imperial Beach Mayor Jim Janney. "I'm sorry, but we're basically asking for anything. The real goal, in my opinion, is to maintain Imperial Beach as a viable area. This is called opportunistic sand."
Dedina said he was concerned that the decision to ask the Port for money for sand should have been more open and allowed more opportunity for public input. It is especially important, he said, for groups like his that want to protect coastal wildlife and have a serious stake in how sand replenishment projects are carried out.
Janney acknowledged that the decision to ask the Port for money was made during a private conversation with Port Commissioner Mike Bixler and City Manager Gary Brown. But he said they had the city's best economic interests in mind.
"We had to keep this on the radar screen," he said. "It was dropping below their cutoff line for available money and we wanted to reiterate the desire to bring material to Imperial Beach."
He said he and other City Council members would not allow the Army Corps to bring contaminated sand to Imperial Beach.
"From everything I've been told, the material that's in the dredge, that material is extremely good sand," he said.
But he said he also had a responsibility to jump at any opportunity to secure increasingly scarce funding for sand replenishment.
"I would hate it to come about that people say we never advocated for the money," Janney said.
Please contact Adrian Florido directly at adrian.florido@voiceofsandiego.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adrianflorido.