Why should the South Bay public ask this plan to be reconsidered?

Only a few citizens of Imperial Beach and Coronado were aware that this past July 12 was last day to provide public comment on the TETRP II Phase 1 project. This project is proposed as a “wetland restoration” project in the Imperial Beach Estuary on the very south edge where the estuary meets Border Field State Park. As a local resident who has some experience in Southern California environmental restoration projects, I must ask that this project be reconsidered, and the State of California funding be applied to other more important projects in the Tijuana River Valley. Here is some food for thought on why this project should be rejected as the absence of sound management of our local estuary environment.

The TRNERR (Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve) public outreach documentation is unreadable and lacks the proper scope of work. A project such as this should have a preliminary detailed maps which describe the work and the existing current conditions of the site ecology.

The first shortcoming is the lack of any background information on existing habitat or just the simple basics of the existing in mud species that would be permanently exterminated if this project was to go forward. Without this kind of front-end basic knowledge there is a significant chance that this project would do more damage than good and dramatically eliminate the overall biodiversity of species of the Imperial Beach Slough.

For example, the area under consideration is currently one of the extreme low flow tidal areas in the Slough and has been untouched by any grading or mechanical disturbance for the 100 years or more…. there are just no photos prior to 1922. But in 1922, it looked much as it does now.

Low flows areas have a different ecology than those that exists at the mouth of the slough which has continuous seawater flushing action. In low flow areas, you have purple Sea Slugs, bright neon yellow slugs, large, shelled snails, clams, leaf type seagrass, and other mud-dwelling organisms who do not exist in the mouth of the Slough. Since this site has been most likely undisturbed it may contain many creatures that are extremely desirable to retain and study.

In the management of public open space there are two types of lands: pristine habitat and compromised lands. By simple example pristine habitat is Yellowstone or Yosemite and compromised lands are those lands that have been changed so much they no longer hold native species or resemble what naturally existed.

As a best management practice of our environment, you never touch pristine habitat because there is a 95 percent chance you will lose the biodiversity. Recently, scientific studies have been critical of river habit restoration in the United States and Europe. These studies review the results of hundreds of restoration projects and report their probability of success. In 2015, the findings were made public that in the United States over the last 20 years environmental restoration projects have about 90 percent chance to fail and reach their stated goals. The odds in fact are bleaker than that. Of the 78 river restoration projects examined “only two showed statistically significant increases in biodiversity.” That is only a 2.5 percent “success rate.”

There are three points here to be made. First point is that if you destroy this pristine habitat with a rich area of biodiversity in the Tijuana Sloughs you have a 98 percent chance that you will be replacing it with dead zone of habitat that may never recover or will take decades to recover.

Second point is that this area because it may represent untouched “pristine” habitat it also serves as a nursery which constantly populates the surrounding compromised habitat with viable repopulation of native species.

Third point, why would we spend taxpayer’s money and risk the destruction of pristine habitat when the Tijuana River and estuary has abundant compromised habitat to conduct these types of high-risk restoration experiments. If these other compromised lands were restored the result would be a better ecological outcome for the Tijuana River and the estuary by 10-fold in comparison to the TETRP II Phase I project.

A recent example of the negative outcome of this type of project is the Oneonta Slough restoration project completed back in 1997. This area is directly behind my home, and I have snorkeled and fished this area since 1963. In the 1960s and 1970s this area of the Imperial Beach Slough had deep channels and each day the tide would rush in and out of this back bay area. Fish were abundant and a birds would dive and eat the surface smelt that would come with the incoming tide. Locals still remember the abundance of mullet, sand dabs, halibut, clams, ghost shrimp and spotted bay bass that would be caught in this area. In the years following, because of this restoration project, the volume of water has been restricted to a tenth of its normal flow. The outcome of this project is that the fish and the diving birds who would eat them no longer are present in this environment. The mullet, sand dabs, halibut, clams, ghost shrimp and spotted bay bass are gone, and the birds are also gone. The biodiversity of this area, even after 20 years, has is still not recovered.

Another point which needs sharing is the content of the public outreach by TRNEER (TETRP II Phase I) website is very poor and lacking. The meeting materials on the links called Final Script only has verbiage with no slides so the public who would go to this website has no way to offer review drawings and conduct a proper consideration of this project because the drawings are not there. Many of the public who would look at this (especially the elderly and first level computer users) out of frustration would most likely stop searching and so this segment of the public cannot comment.

I deeply care about the Tijuana River Valley and the Tijuana estuary. I ask that this project needs to be better documented and that another site be considered where tax dollars can have a large impact on the betterment our river and ocean environment. This site should not be touched until at a minimum this project be restudied and resubmitted to the public with more information considered until the factors cited above are properly known and vetted.

The simplest, most cost effective and natural restoration of the Tijuana River Valley is a thorough cleaning and regrading of the of the compromised lands. This would include the removal of manmade debris, removal of tires, trash and the standing pond of sewage that now exists between Hollister Street and Dairy Mart Road.

All the areas mentioned above are located on compromised public lands. We should start the clean up and restoration of our environment there and not destroy pristine lands that we still have in the Tijuana River Valley.

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