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Tijuana River Estuary Endures In Face Of Many Ecological Challenges

September 7, 2017 1:15 p.m.

Tijuana River Estuary Endures In Face Of Many Ecological Challenges


Lori Kuczmanski, spokeswoman, International Boundary and Water Commission United States Section

Related Story: Tijuana River Estuary Endures In Face Of Many Ecological Challenges


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

The Tijuana River estuary is showing resilience for the ability to cope with law -- raw sewage flow. Eric Anderson says it is not happening without help. Biologists are managing the constant threat to the complex ecosystem.Brian Collins stands in front of the beach north of the U.S.-Mexico border.The salt water comes in and they are hanging out waiting for the fish to come and go.The raw sewage flows. He says this is a lifeline for the complex web of life in the estuary.This fees this entire wetland. This is the largest wetland left in California.This narrow opening allows for and inland flow bringing saltwater to the floor.This is the pinch point. It is like your aorta. You need that to stay open to stay alive. They need this river mouth to stay open.This keeps the oxygen levels up and that has sustained that echo system for endangered species. This is a rare bird that thrives in coastal salt marshes.The habitat is green this summer because the estuary was flooded with nutrient rich sewage.We learned the hard way how fast the system can go into that condition, given the types of inflow that we have.Biologists do not measure sewage or contamination but they do track the estuary's vital signs. Jeff Crookes points to a post that sits on the edge of a channel where open water flows. This is one of several.If you see the top thing, that is a satellite uplink. This is uploaded and we can look at the data in real-time.Just out of sight, a tube contains instruments that dip into the ocean -- open water. Those take the pulse of the estuary.That unit is sitting in there and every 15 minutes, it is measuring how warm the water it is and how salty it is and how crowded it is and the water levels. Is measuring how much oxygen is in the water.Plunging oxygen levels alerted biologists that there was a problem in the estuary. Stand clog the opening of the Tijuana River. Clearing the blockage gave the estuary a chance to recover. Brian: says recovery is an ongoing battle.If we are smart and we work with natural systems in ways that are science-based and intelligent, I know we can repair them. It is a matter of investing energy in that.The echo system has proven to be resilient as it deals with extraordinary challenges. There are ongoing battles against invasive species, sediment, and the massive rain, driven flows.There were 300 sewage spills in the canyon.The mayor got so frustrated this past winter that he is preparing to take the federal government to court. They announced they intend to sue the international boundary and wastewater commission. They are responsible for cross border sewage issues.They do not have money. We need to get this in front of a federal judge so they can sit down and fix these egregious issues.They are urging other cities to join the legal effort. They have discussed the meeting in two meetings.The mayor is considering drafting a participation agreement with the Imperial Beach. KPBS reached out to Mara Elliott. They indicated they have been contacted by the litigation. The city attorney is not ready to make a recommendation to the mayor or the city Council. Erik Anderson, KPBS news.20 me is Lori, the public affairs officer for the international boundary and water commission for the United States section. Welcome to the program.Thank you for having me expect the water commission is holding a public meeting tonight to talk about the progress it made to address sewage spills into the Tijuana watershed. What can the public expect to learn at that meeting ?We are going to go over the investigative report for the sewage spill. There is a list of recommendations that both countries agreed upon from the water quality workgroup. Some of those recommendations include installation of a new [ Indiscernible ] to measure water flow in a watershed. We asked the developer for a diagnostic for a pumping system. We have asked Mexico to acquire pumps so in the event they have an emergency situation, they can pump water out versus diverting it to the Tijuana River. They are going over the recommendations that both countries have worked on from February and give an update on where we are at tonight.Are these recommendations? Have the proposals been put into place?Yes. Many things have been put into place. The installation to measure flow in the Tijuana has been emblematic.Our goal is to have that done by the end of August. We reached that agreement to install the meters. Additionally, we asked Mexico to acquire bypass pumps, which they acquired one of three. That is a work in progress but we are making headway and we are pleased with the progress that we made thus far.Have you been able to see benefits from the measures that are in place?The dry season has approached. There is not as much flow. We do see benefits from Mexico. One other benefit was communication. We have asked them to notify us in a timely manner. They have done that in the past.The state of Baja, they promised to spend 148 million pesos to repair the Tijuana sewage treatment station. How is that progressing?It is going well. We are using that money for infrastructure and some of it was lighting and the hydraulic hammer. That project is projected to be completed by November.Is the U.S. government considering infrastructure up grades on this sort of the border to treat's image -- sewage? That we are looking at options and we have a couple of sites and we can see what we can do to improve sewage on the U.S. side.As we said, the mayor has said the city is preparing to sue the IB WC because they believe the agency has dropped the ball on protecting the South Bay from message sewage spills. What is your response to that ?We have not seen official documentations. If we do, we will respond appropriately.Do you think your agency has responded appropriately to the recurring sewage spill on the side of the border?We have done actions over the years and we start when they built this South treatment plan in San Diego. That is going back 20 plus year they have been proactive on controlling the sewage issue. The city of Tijuana is growing and infrastructure is changing. It is an ongoing issue that both countries need to keep up with.I am wondering if your agency has received complaints from the border patrol. What we are hearing is that agents is -- they are experiencing health issues from the sewage they are experiencing. That we have not received any inquiries from border patrol directly.Do you monitor those and the fact that the sewage is not just spilling into the Tijuana River? It is contaminating a wide area of canyons and rabies in the South Bay?Some of those canyons, it is a collector. It does not power back into the South Bay international treatment plant.Why are these border patrol agents having health issues from rural sewage ?I cannot answer that. I do not know.We heard the mayor saying that I BWC does not have money. Has your agency been having any problems ?We get funding and we have projects that have been allocated. It is not necessarily a funding issue. It could be summer allocated for projects and some are planned out, you know, sometimes it is years in advance. We have allocated money when it is needed. We have to see how that goes.Considering the wide scope of the sewage problem in the South Bay, you have enough funding to really address these issues?We have funding for projects. Some things, funding has been allocated and the projects are in progress. If something new were to come up, the money has not been allocated. We have to move money around. Priorities take place and, you know, we do cover frame San Diego down to Brownville. There is a very good reason. We have transboundary projects that we are aware of and they are costly. We are allocated so much money every year. We prioritize everything and get everything to take care of everything along the border.What are you hoping people come away with at this meeting tonight?We want the stakeholders to know that we are working with Mexico to resolve the issue. It does take time and money. We are working on it. We have been working on it. We have been working on this for years.It is a work in progress.I have been speaking with Lori, the public affairs officer for the international water commission. Thank you.Thank you for having me.