Tijuana Estuary Tops Federal Climate Change Damage List

Published Aug. 13, 2013 by Imperial Beach Patch.

A study of climate change by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has named the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve the most vulnerable estuary in the NOAA’s research reserve system.

In the first study of its kind, scientists used America’s “living laboratories,” 28 National Estuarine Research Reserves in the United States and Puerto Rico, to analyze the potential impact of climate change on areas where rivers meet the ocean.

The mix of fresh and salt water in estuaries creates unique and diverse ecosystems, biological diversity and can support maritime economies.

The study took into account sea level rise, air temperature, ecological resiliency, sensitivity of biophysical water conditions and potential social impacts.

“In relative terms, the Tijuana River NERR is the site that exhibits the highest risk to climate change impacts, when looking across all five indices,” the report stated. “Tijuana River was the only reserve where all five indices indicated a relatively high likelihood of potential climate change impacts.”

The Tijuana River NERR was among six reserves singled out as the least ecologically resilient among national reserves. Two other California estuaries, Elkhorn Slough and San Francisco Bay reserves, also made the list.

Tijuana River NERR also received the highest average of any estuary in the country in a biophysical sensitivity index developed by NOAA, meaning the highest sensitivity to climate and water quality variables that support life.

Generally, estuaries on the West Coast of the United States and Gulf of Mexico were found to be at greatest risk of sea level rise. A U.S. Geological Survey study was used to evaluate vulnerability to sea level rise.

Societal impacts were considered high for estuaries in California when socioeconomic and demographic makeup of nearby communities are considered, the report stated.

90 percent of the study area considered in analysis of the social impact of the Tijuana River NERR is in Mexico and includes Tijuana and Tecate, according to Tijuana Estuary staff. The vast majority of the Tijuana River watershed is in Mexico.

Overbearing sediment, invasive species of plants or animals, erosion, toxic contaminants and other factors were identified as key factors that may lower the resilience of estuaries.

Population growth and wastewater treatment issues were also named among the kind of activity that can add stress to estuaries during climate change.

The Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve has the largest uninterrupted wetlands of Southern California and boasts seven different habitats. The estuary acts as a resting point for birds on the Pacific Flyway and is on a short list of wetlands of international importance, according to the International Ramsar Convention.

Researchers at the Tijuana Estuary are currently conducting a three-year study on the impact of local climate change.

The Imperial Beach City Council approved applications for grants in July and August to measure the impact of climate change on Imperial Beach, a city virtually surrounded by water.

Click here to read the full report.

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