On June 27 and 28th members from the Surfrider San Diego NoBS campaign participated in a two-day collaborative learning training with other NGOs, non-profits and government agencies within the Tijuana River environmental community. Members of Surfrider Foundation, WiLDCOAST,  Audubon Society, San Diego Coastkeeper, Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve, San Diego Foundation, California Coastal Commission, Tijuana Calidad de Vida, 4 Walls International, and US Fish and Wildlife took part. The first day of the training was held at the Tijuana Estuary Visitor Training Center on the US side of the border. Attendees focused on understanding how collaborative learning can be used to build effective teams to accomplish common goals in the Tijuana River watershed. Breakout groups were formed and the Surfrider representatives focused on restoring clean water to the Tijuana River, Estuary and beaches. We identified advocates, information providers, decision makers, initiators, designers, conveners and sponsors and their relative values, concerns and obstacles.  After identifying the key stakeholders and their roles, we implemented a collaborative learning plan to address the issue of clean water in the Tijuana River watershed.

On the second day of training attendees gathered at the Hotel Amigo Pueblo in Tijuana to continue the exercise. Within our group each participant presented an idea to improve the situation. Ideas included bringing the IBWC into sewage treatment compliance, encouraging the IBWC to establish a bilingual/bicultural liaison who would communicate with the Commission’s Mexican counterpart (CILA), creating a media campaign to ameliorate negative cross border perceptions, and developing a water quality and awareness resource database that all agencies and stakeholders could access. The group voted to pursue bringing the IBWC into sewage treatment compliance and encouraging the creation of a bilingual/bicultural liaison position at the IBWC. We used the collaborative learning process and structure to develop action items and responsible agents and an attainable date was set for each item in order to reach the final goal.

Surfrider representatives left the training with an additional tool kit to use in the struggle for clean water in the binational watershed.  The two-day training also allowed us to further strengthen our relationships with other organizations within the Tijuana River environmental community.

The following day members from Surfrider’s NoBS Campaign and the crew from 4 Walls International met at Baja Malibu for a quick sunrise surf session and then headed to Las Hormiguitas Native Plant Nursery in Los Laureles Canyon in Tijuana. We worked with volunteers from the local community on finishing construction of the waterless composting toilet facility. The composting toilet facility, constructed by 4 Walls International volunteers and members of the local community, serves as a positive example in the neighborhood of what can be accomplished with limited resources and local volunteer labor.  The low-cost composting toilet system, designed and fabricated in Mexico, stops sewage contamination at the source.  Los Laureles canyon lies within the Tijuana River watershed and is one of the last points it flows through before the river crosses into the United States. Due to lack of infrastructure in the region winter rains bring sewage, tires, plastic, and trash across the border into sensitive habitat in the estuary and ultimately into the ocean.

Surfrider SD is actively involved with Mexican NGOs through the Tijuana River Action Network, however this is the first time that the local San Diego chapter has engaged in a project specifically in the Los Laureles canyon community. “It was eye opening to travel upstream from the mouth of the river in Imperial Beach to the severely impacted portion of the river just across the border in the canyons,” said Dan Murphy from Surfrider’s NoBS campaign. “I think we [in the US] forget that this is a shared watershed between the two countries with shared problems of overpopulation and a lack of proper sewage infrastructure and garbage disposal. Just because a wall separates the two countries does not mean we can’t cross over, raise awareness, and work with the local community to carry out Surfrider’s core values.”

Photos from the project can be seen at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150882558882443.398257.317796537442&type=1

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http://www.flickr.com/photos/surfridersandiego/sets/72157630549118718/