By Mark West
On Friday, Feb. 24, the city of Imperial Beach received an e-mail from the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) in San Diego, with a federal sewage spill report attached from the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). The news wasn't good, and in fact it confirmed our worst fears.
According to the report, over 143 million gallons of sewage was discharged into the Tijuana River from Feb. 6 to Feb. 23, during the course of a construction project upstream in Tijuana. The timeline of the report clearly coincides with a period of significant odor and stench that affected residents in south San Diego, Imperial Beach and Coronado, which prompted several news stories.
During this time, multiple inquiries were made to the IBWC and Baja California to find out what was going on. Despite the overwhelming evidence that a major sewage spill was in progress, what was remarkable, exasperating – and now possibly criminal – was the deafening silence from authorities on both sides of the border.
While this is the largest sewage spill in the Tijuana River in at least 10 years, it's important to remember there is a difference between storm-related runoff and the deliberate dumping of raw sewage into the Tijuana River when it is flowing. This was the latter – and while dumping has occurred before, it has never occurred at this scale or magnitude.
Activists have documented dozens of illegal sewage flows in the Tijuana River over the last several years and were able to stop them, even when authorities denied they were occurring. Last summer a group of activists even documented an illegal sewage discharge on the beach at Playas de Tijuana, right into the Pacific Ocean, and were successfully able to shut it down. As a result of these ongoing spills, Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina called for the dismissal of IBWC director Ed Drusina in July 2016.
Curiously, on Thursday, Feb. 23, the day before the official notification of the sewage spill from the IBWC, the city of Imperial Beach received a letter from the North American Development Bank (NADBANK) outlining plans by Baja California to build new sewage infrastructure in Tijuana to reduce beach pollution. So just as a bi-national group has been taking needed "baby steps" forward, this spill takes us back.
An additional concern is with U.S.–Mexico relations at a new low, these kinds of spills and the resulting lax notification could become the new normal – in which sewage spills that are supposed to be reported as according to the U.S.–Mexico Water Treaty Minute 320 are instead covered up without any regard for human safety.
So what can you do? Please call and write the San Diego offices of Congressman Juan Vargas, Congressman Scott Peters, Senator Diane Feinstein and Senator Kamala Harris, and ask for the following:
This isn't just an Imperial Beach problem. These kinds of spills impact all the residents of San Diego, Imperial Beach and Coronado, as well as the training of special warfare service members and all of the beaches of northern Baja, from Playas Tijuana to Rosarito. Any spill that contaminates a watershed as significant as the Tijuana River and a swath of the ocean from Rosarito to Coronado is entirely unacceptable.
We have the tools in place to stop such spills, and the communications available for our two countries to notify each other in a reasonable amount of time. What we need is greater advocacy, vigilance and effectiveness in implementing the processes the U.S. and Mexico have in place to enure a cleaner Tijuana River.
Mark West is a retired U.S. Navy officer and an Imperial Beach city council member.
Photos courtesy of the San Diego County Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.
By Renée Owens
On Thursday, Feb. 16, I sent my U.S. congressional representative, Duncan D. Hunter, a message urging him not to weaken or dismantle our Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as the 2017 Congress is threatening to do. On Friday, Feb. 17, he responded, telling me the EPA is a "big problem." I know something about the EPA in my line of work, so I felt obliged to respond.
Dear Mr. Hunter,
I have worked as an environmental consultant in Southern California and Latin America since the early 90s. Along the way I have reintroduced endangered crocodiles, caught and released over 800 anacondas, and tracked jaguars in countries with no EPA or enforcement of environmental protections. I never once feared these animals. What I did I fear were the humans who cared nothing for them or their habitats, because they are the same habitats that keep us alive and well and provide trillions in ecosystem services when they are protected and respected.
When they are not protected, as they are not in many Third World countries, I can tell you who suffers: everyone. When water and air are polluted, having a lots of money doesn't necessarily protect you from the ravages of cancer, immune dysfunction, or a community that cannot sustain itself because it destroys the very nature it relies upon.
I am also a college environmental science instructor. Be aware that if any of my students made the same statements you are erroneously posing as fact they would fail the course, since what they learn is based upon science, history, and facts – not a fabricated mantra marched out and repeated with the singular goal of making unethical corporate CEOs richer while the rest of us suffer.
I am well versed in what authority the EPA has, and what authority it actually uses, now and in the past. Therefore I can say with complete confidence that you have no idea what you're talking about when you say in your e-mail:
"Throughout the Obama Administration and in many previous administrations since its inception, the EPA has drastically overstepped its authority to advance a political agenda that often fails to take into serious consideration the economic well-being of states and local communities. As a result, communities are stripped of jobs and economic mobility because of unaccountable Washington bureaucrats who are often more accountable to special interests than the American people they are employed to serve."
This statement is so incorrect it would be humorous if we weren't talking about livelihoods and the health of millions of people, animals, and our earth – all now at stake due to you and the majority of this Congress' lack of insight on the subject. I have watched for 25 years as environmental protections and protocols create thousands of good-paying, career jobs helping ensure that businesses do what they need to do while taking care not to cause undue and irresponsible harm.
When it asserts its authority (which it often does not due to budget and other constraints), the EPA urges unethical companies to follow the precautionary principle – that thing that helps keep arsenic and lead out your drinking water, deadly carcinogens out of the air your children breathe, and helps protect our beautiful wildlands that provide billions annually in non-consumptive tourism. EPA oversight helps to protect pollinators of our food, wetlands that naturally filter toxins from our water, forests that absorb extra carbon from our warming atmosphere, and parks that provide recreational and spiritual inspiration to millions, to name just a few.
Our own San Diego County has the highest biodiversity of any county in the nation, yet I get the feeling you would sell its biological value to the highest corporate bidder. After all, your record for protecting our environment is pretty poor: you have repeatedly voted to undermine river and other wetland protections, repeatedly voted to bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases and other air pollutants, voted yes to drilling for oil in fragile marine ecosystems that host billions of krill – the pedestal of the ocean's food pyramid – and endangered whale breeding grounds, and even voted yes to slaughtering thousands of free-roaming horses.
And yet, you have voted in favor of almost every bill that serves fossil fuel interests over our nation's environment, including support of the Keystone XL pipeline. The EPA helps keep us healthy by keeping our environment healthy. If you weaken it, you undermine our nation's health. Given that you voted for the repeal of Obamacare with no working alternative in sight, how do you expect your newly uninsured constituents to deal with the increased health issues they will become victims of as our air and water become more polluted?
I find the flippant ease with which you trade protections of our air, water, habitats, wildlife, and the health of the people of our nation for the support of immoral lobbyists to be reprehensible. I am additionally aware, for instance, that you just voted in favor or allowing recreational hunters throughout 76 million acres of Alaska's wildlife Refuges to shoot sleeping bears and wolf pups in their dens, trapping, poisoning, baiting them all in the name of fun and profit. Only a coward would get a perverse thrill from such a thing. One wonders if you will proudly tell your grandchildren how you used your political power to support shooting wolf pups for entertainment?
Mr. Hunter, I have been an energetic activist for decades. I truly wish we had common ground upon which we could find compromise. But your statements now and in the past are clearly not based upon fact, nor do they have the well-being of the majority of your constituents in mind. Therefore, be informed that your actions to degrade and sicken the Earth that supports us all – regardless of political party or religion – only serves to fuel my energies tenfold so that you and your like-minded colleagues will be outvoted as soon as the next opportunity arises.
"Where is Duncan" State Route 67 overpass photo by Pamela Ellen Hughes
Congressman Duncan D. Hunter photo courtesy of the congressman's office
By Tommy Hough
Ansel Adams famously said in a 1983 interview, "It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment." Unfortunately, that's the situation we environmentalists find ourselves in again. Elections, as they say, have consequences.
As revealed by the proposed declawing of the Endangered Species act in mid-January, and driven home last week by Congressman Jason Chaffetz's attempt to sell off more than 3.3 million acres of public land in 10 states, congressional Republicans and the Trump administration are joining forces to undo federal public lands policy and even drill in our National Parks – our nation's most sacrosanct places.
While finishing off any kind of tolerant pretense for conservation or public lands management on behalf of GOP lawmakers, these moves are entirely unprecedented in our nation's history.
Generations of Americans – Democrats and Republicans alike – have worked for well over a century to ensure responsible management of our public lands, and have sought to protect and enjoy them. In fact, it was President Lincoln who first set Yosemite aside for conservation in 1864, and President Theodore Roosevelt who crafted the passage of the Antiquities Act in 1906. But now, led by Utah's Jason Chaffetz and Arizona's Paul Gosar in the House and Texas' Ted Cruz in the Senate, today's Republicans – beholden and blinded by special interests disguised as populism – want to undo the very idea of public lands.
The reasons for the sell-off? To "give" federal lands "back" to the states – as though states are at all equipped to manage the volume of public land being discussed, especially in the west. Managing public land for a variety of uses is what the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) do every day – whether it's for recreation, resources, or simply to be left alone as wilderness or habitat.
Not even James Watt, Ronald Reagan's notorious Interior Secretary, ever suggested anything on the scale of what is being proposed now, but congressional Republicans have been engineering these moves since they took over following the Tea Party wave in the 2010 midterms (again - elections have consequences). Until recently, the GOP always came up against an immovable object – President Obama. But those days are gone, and the floodgates for rollback policy are wide open.
While reasonable people can have their differences about how agencies do their management jobs – and I've been on the other side of the coin on this many times, especially while at Oregon Wild – there's no doubt our public lands are better off with oversight than without it. But when the BLM tried to enforce policy in the case of the Bundys, they had guns pointed in their face. Now the weight of the GOP and Trumpistan is siding with the Bundys over its own civil servants and public land.
Don't be fooled – despite the withdrawal of H.R. 621 by Congressman Chaffetz, the desire to sell off public lands and drill in National Parks has strong support in Congress, and there's nothing to stop it other than the voice of the citizenry. While those voices were heard last week by Chaffetz and others, the House GOP will find new ways to try to separate Americans from their public lands. This is just the beginning.
Like toothpaste from a tube, once we lose these lands we'll never get them back intact – and the precedent will be set for even more pillaging. What will they come for then? Our deserts? The Central Coast? The Redwoods? The Sierras? How big a bite will it be? The decimation of lifetimes of conservation efforts and the squandering of the legacy of John Muir could very well happen over the next two years unless we remain incredibly vigilant, and respond with the full weight of outrage at every attempt.
Trump and the GOP Congress know that's a level of intensity difficult to maintain, but as Ansel Adams sagely noted, "It is a terrible thing when we have to fight our own government to save the environment."
The Antiquities Act of 1906, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the Wilderness Act of 1964 , the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, and at the executive level, the Roadless Rule of 2001 are some of the best conservation policies in place that enable public lands to be left as is. That's what Jason Chaffetz and Ted Cruz ultimately seek to undo. Remind your congressperson these and other environmental policies must remain in place, as is.
Vasquez Peak Wilderness photo by Tommy Hough
Notch Peak Wilderness Study Area photo by Michael Klein
The blog component of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action welcomes content from SDCDEA members, guests and leadership.