Jeff Crooks is a research coordinator at the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The U.S.-Mexico border delineates the separation of two countries, but that doesn’t mean the two sides are completely isolated from each other.

It’s why communities like San Ysidro, perched on the border, face unique air quality issues — not only from idling cars at the Port of Entry, but also from pollution caused by different air quality standards in Tijuana. It’s also why the United States and Mexico coordinate on public health, and why experts say the two nations should do more on climate change.

Since the 1900s, average temperatures in the border region have risen by 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit, said Fernando De Sales, an assistant professor of climate science at San Diego State University.

Many of the regions that span the entire U.S.-Mexico border have warm, dry climates, though there are some variations, like in the Lower Rio Grande region that is more humid and has more precipitation. The border also encompasses some of the poorest regions in the country, home to large Latino populations and tribal lands, which means the people living there are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, according to a December 2016 report to Congress and the president.

“As a whole, it is one of the hottest, driest and poorest areas of the country, yet it is growing rapidly and vital to the U.S. economy,” said Paul Ganster, director of the Institute for Regional Studies of the Californias at San Diego State University and chair of the Good Neighbor Environmental Board, which put together the 2016 report. In the San Diego-Tijuana region, increasing temperatures also mean a reduced water supply, sea level rise and increased wildfire risks, he said.

Already the region has experienced some changes. Water supply is probably the most noticeable. But there are others.

Jeff Crooks, research coordinator at the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve, pointed out the arrival of new species in the area because of warming water, like the Mexican swimming blue crab, big brown edible shrimp and a new fiddler crab.

“Warmer water species are moving north,” Crooks said. “We’re seeing new species arriving due to warming and some rare species increasing their presence.”

De Sales said he has a student who’s researching the impacts of changing temperatures in wine regions in Temecula and Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe. Grapes can only grow in small temperature ranges and need a certain numbers of weeks in which night temperatures dip into the 40s. In a few decades, local wine producers won’t be able to produce wine the way they do now, which could cost the industry jobs.

The change in temperature will also have secondary impacts, like increasing the presence of mosquitoes and the diseases they transmit, like dengue, De Sales said.

The impacts cross borders, and strategies to mitigate and adapt to the changes should too, experts agree.

A lot of the work done at the Tijuana River Estuary to preserve the coastal wetlands can be a piece of the puzzle in mitigating climate change. While it won’t offset the carbon dioxide emitted by vehicles in the region, Crooks said, coastal wetlands help trap carbon. They are wet, so they never burn like forests, and their high salt content means animals won’t often eat the plants. The carbon locked away in wetlands rarely ends up back in the atmosphere.

The wetlands can also respond dynamically to sea level rise, absorbing some water to lessen the impact of flooding in places like Imperial Beach, Crooks said.

“There has also been some coordination across international boundaries on water-related issues,” Ganster said. “But the planning and sharing hasn’t gone as far as would be optimal. That’s partly due to different political traditions and different economic conditions and wealth.”

Scientists in San Diego and Mexico have been increasingly sharing data and research to get a better binational picture of climate change, Ganster said.

Another initiative between the University of California system and institutions in Mexico identified several areas for cross-border collaboration on climate change adaption. It highlighted air and epidemics, marine resources and fisheries, agriculture, terrestrial biodiversity, the impacts of drought on forests and migration as areas that will be facing changes due to climate change and will require cross-border strategies to adapt.

Former San Diego Border Patrol Chief Tapped to Lead Agency

The Trump administration has tapped former chief of San Diego’s Border Patrol sector, Rodney Scott, to lead Border Patrol, the Associated Press reported last week.

Scott was chief of the San Diego sector up until roughly a year ago when he was transferred to Washington, D.C. Before coming to San Diego, Scott was chief of the El Centro sector. In San Diego, he oversaw some of the administration’s most controversial policies at the border.

In 2018, he led President Donald Trump and Homeland Security officials on a tour of the border wall prototypes in Otay Mesa, and told the officials about en masse border crossings that happened in the 1990s, before the first border fencing was put in place, the Union-Tribune reported at the time.

Scott was also in charge in San Diego when former Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided to try to prosecute every adult who crossed the border illegally, which led to a surge in family separations and ushered in Operation Streamline, the separate court system used to try illegal entry misdemeanors.

He was chief when the large migrant caravans of 2018 came to Tijuana, where he defended Border Patrol agents’ firing of tear gas into Mexico because, he said, the agents were being assaulted with “a hail of rocks,” the Associated Press reported.

Scott also made the controversial decision in November 2018 to change rules at Friendship Park, where families split by the border could come to converse and share a “pinky kiss” through a metal fence — and even hug during periodic “door openings.” The closure happened after a surprise wedding ceremony between a Mexican woman and a U.S. citizen man who turned out to have a drug smuggling conviction.

More Border News

  • The replanting of a Friendship Park garden this weekend was the latest twist in a sometimes-adversarial, sometimes-conciliatory relationship between border agents and activists. (Associated Press)
  • A reputed tunnel builder and personal assistant of “El Chapo” have both been extradited to San Diego. (Union-Tribune)
  • County Supervisor Greg Cox and Port Commissioner Rafael Castellanos published dueling op-eds disputing how much the county government is or isn’t doing to respond to the border sewage crisis. Castellanos argued that the county should be doing more, while Cox responded that “the county is the only local agency that has proposed real-world solutions to fix this problem.”
  • The ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties filed an administrative complaint calling for a review of the treatment of pregnant women detained at Border Patrol facilities, alleging pregnant detainees have reported assault, a lack of proper medical care and detention periods that exceed typical detention policies while in U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol custody. (City News Service)
  • Construction started for an immigrant training center in Tijuana to provide free classes for immigrants, including Spanish and English, computer classes, certification for elementary and middle school and electrician and carpentry training. (Union-Tribune)
  • The border is more than a line separating two countries. It’s a web of entities and agencies that intersect and overlap. Our new video series, San Diego 101, includes a handy explainer of the agencies that run the border.

Maya was Voice of San Diego’s Associate Editor of Civic Education. She reported on marginalized communities in San Diego and oversees Voice’s explanatory...

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