Of lemons and goat canyons

January 4, 2009 § 4 Comments

p1040002Nothing like a leisurely breakfast with the Times in hand to uncover interesting news items related to our creeks and waters.  No, today’s edition hasn’t finally covered the bond freeze that is affecting the livelihoods of so many of my watery brethren.  But here’s a brief pastiche for your Sunday pleasure:

In a smuggling haven, a berm and barrier rise.  The long and the short of it is, yet another stream, Goat Canyon aka Smuggler’s Gulch, has fallen.  Not to developers or flood control authorities, but to the Department of Homeland Security.  If you recall, the Feds waived environmental review requirements for border wall construction, and so hills have been lopped off, a canyon filled, a wall raised.  The article didn’t mention how drainage from the canyon will be routed to the Tijuana River Estuary, on the US side of the border, and one of Southern California’s last remaining coastal wetland jewels that actually,still, functions like a fairly natural wetland, although it did note that the estuary is suffering the effects of too much sediment (from erosion – like when you lop off hills and create acres of bare dirt) washing into it.  I am particularly interesting in this question because, several months ago, the Times also ran a story about smugglers using old culverts – i.e. buried streams – to do their business.  Quite a few waterways flow from Mexico to the US, and we’ve put pipes in some of them, bury them, and then forget that they ever existed.  And are then surprised by humanity’s ingenuity to use them as a convenient, pre-made tunnel for illegal trafficking.  I’m sure it will be so different on Goat Canyon.

Moving on to the slimmed-down Op-Ed page, a hopeful story, one that speaks directly to my own hopes and beliefs, A view of the drought from Down Under, author Patrick Whyte describes how the urban residents of Queensland reduced their water consumption to 32 gallons of water per person a day.  True they were driven to it by drought, but it demonstrates how people in a populated semi-arid or arid environment can drastically reduce their consumption.  They didn’t need a desal plant because they acted sensibly.  In 2007, I was invited to speculate on what a “regenerative water future” for Los Angeles would look like at Cal Poly Pomona’s 50th Anniversary of their Landscape Architecture program.  My estimates, which I admit were not calculated using the highest or best data (pulled from the internet, with assumptions etc), demonstrated that – to truly walk the talk of sustainability – we actually could unleash ourselves of the Bay-Delta and Colorado River (and greatly reduce our use of the Owens River supply) by doing just what Mr. Whyte describes.  I had estimated that we would need to reduce to 41 gals/person/day.  To attain such a goal would mean radically reshaping how we utilize our landscape – a political thing – which is where we really hit conceptual barriers.  We fool ourselves into thinking the problems are technical, they are not – they are political.  Australians had the political will to do what I hope we will someday be capable of – making decisions that benefit our life-systems, and not just our lawns.  

But even with extreme shifts in consumption, human populations strain our freshwater resources.  So it was with no small ambivalence that I saw on Yahoo! News that the Vatican picked up another bully pulpit topic of mine and many others, the hormone-laden effluent that is affecting our fish, frogs, and probably us (if not now, eventually).  However, instead of focusing on the toxic suite of drugs, antibiotics, and chemicals that we flush down the toilet, they focus on just one:  birth control drugs.  Contraception.  


Yes, estrogen mimicking hormones in our waterways are a serious problem, and we need to clean that up. But unfettered population growth (I’m talking humans here) dwarfs all.  If you want to be part of the solution, find another form of birth control.  My earth-mama leanings led me to learn of some natural contraceptives – lactic acid formulaslemon-and-aloe, and neem(for women and men).  These things create an inhospitable environment for sperm.  But I kinda want more lab verification that these things work before I make a one-woman science experiment out of myself, testimonials aside.  A side benefit would be the liberation of one’s libido from corporate America.  And guys, there’s similar chatter on ways to safely reduce your sperm count without reducing your mojo.  Apparently the little buggers don’t like heat, and will wither with repeat visits to a hot tub, for instance.  So we need to start demanding research and verification of these and other techniques that allow us to live and to love, without polluting or overpopulating the planet. 

Yes, this is a creek blog.


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§ 4 Responses to Of lemons and goat canyons

  • David says:

    “Unfettered population growth” – ? Not in most first world countries. In fact, one of the biggest problems facing many developed countries is declining birth rates. Japan are and Italy are particularly acute examples of the problem, as is Russia (although it is arguably not a first world country). Better birth control won’t solve the problem in third world countries. For a variety of reasons, mostly economic in origin, third world families want as many kids as possible, and, therefore, reject birth control of any type.

  • Jessica Hall says:

    Yeah I paused as I typed that phrase as well. I think even “fettered”, we’re pushing the limits of our carrying capacity, which I acknowledge was not your point. Consider however that even a modest “first world” lifestyle would require resources equivalent to several earths to support every human being currently present. I can imagine how a declining birth rate is a problem economically, but ecologically it is needed. Better it happen as the result of educated choices, than plagues, starvation and other travesties. In the “third world”, when women are empowered with the ability to choose contraception, they often do.

  • Mary says:

    Yes, this may be ” one of Southern California’s last remaining coastal wetland jewels” but it is in danger from more than just silt! Take a drive down Dairy Mart Road and witness the vast amount of pollution and trash: bottles, tires, cans, stroller parts, shoes, sewage, and chemical runoff from businesses, and more, More, MORE TONS of it along the river pathway leading to the estuary proper. Trash and silt clogged the uncleared (for 4 years!) Tijuana riverbed on the US side of the border; water backed up and spilled over and around the berm during recent heavy rains. MASSIVE FLOOD! Hundreds of horses (not 70 as the newsreports said) were evacuated at great risk to the humans involved. 3 horses drowned and 1 was euthanized after being seriously injured trying to escape the flood. Citizen rescuers (who did most of the rescues) were told to get hepatitus shots after the exposure. Guess which is harder to deal with: flooded ranch or medical insurance forms? Mexican friends tell me the water that flows into the US from the Mexican floodchannel is badly polluted with chemical runoff from businesses plus sewage….they hold their noses when crossing the pedestrian bridges over the concrete channel. How long can fish hold their breath?

  • Jessica Hall says:

    Good point, Mary. The Tijuana River watershed as whole – not just the estuary – really exposes many problems. There is rapid and scary groundwater depletion south of Tecate, going hand-in-hand with the extraction of building materials for San Diego’s tony suburban homes. A community called Los Laureles, which is in Goat Canyon, has a stream that runs white. I mean seriously, white. There are maquiladoras upstream. And sewage ran openly forming little gullies down the steep dirt roads. And yes, all that ends up in the estuary. So here we are, a rich and powerful nation, that creates a trade agreement with our poor neighbor to the south, with poor environmental (and labor) standards. I hope that people are as concerned with the conditions in Mexico as they are in the estuary.

    By the way, this is a good moment to plug the group Colors of Green, organized by a consortium of LA-based environmental NGOs, and Oscar Romo who works on the Tijuana River estuary. This group has organized several visits to the Tijuana River watershed, which is how I became exposed to the conditions there. Even in places like Los Laureles, there is cause for hope, as people like Oscar make connections and work to implement watershed improvement plans that will gradually benefit the resident’s health and quality of life as well as the estuary.

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