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Floating canaries and the frogs of Nofufi

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
April 4, 2007


Originally I had intended this week's column to focus on the unintended results of unchecked development in San Diego. In particular, the negative effects on wildlife when their habitat is removed to make room for more humans. Be it in urban, suburban, or rural settings, construction equals destruction.

Serving as catalyst for this observation, a chorus of frogs at the short-lived gallery space at the corner of A Street and Coast Highway 101 in Encinitas serve as a perfect metaphor for over development and the unrelenting pressures faced by coastal residents. Visiting the soon to be homeless 101 Artist Colony for an evening of art and music, the croaking song of psuedacris cadaverina (California chorus frog) reminded how of much we continue to loose to the bulldozers of growth.

Like the artists of the 101 Artist Colony, the frogs are required to seek other accommodations to make room for a mixed -use condominium project. Thankfully, Cottonwood Creek, less than a 100 yards away,will make relocation possible. Granted Cottonwood creek is a highly disturbed creek, with questionable water quality, and not a protected water feature in a gallery garden, it still serves as suitable habitat where the new condos will not.

Although another "canary" in the coal mine of southern California, the plight of the chorus frogs maybe unsettling, but it pales in comparison to the dead fish floating on the Buena Vista Lagoon. Victims of a rusty sewage pipe and human indifference, the flora and fauna of California's first ecological reserve were inundated with 5 million gallons of raw sewage. That this happened during the spring breeding season, only compounds the ecological impact.

San Diego County's sewage system, like the rest of it's infrastructure, was designed using mid 20th century standards. The problem is not the pipes, nor is it about the people who maintain the pipes. The problem is people in general, too many people, using infrastructure designed and developed without taking ecology or environmental awareness into consideration.

At fault for this man made disaster are the cities of Vista and Carlsbad. Jointly responsible for the infrastructure that carries human waste to processing facilities and eventually the ocean, the failed sewage pipe is evidence of poor maintenance and misguided priorities.

Failing sewage pipes is just one example of how municipal, county, and state bureaucracies are failing to do the jobs they were entrusted with in return for a steady pay check and a healthy pension. As population continues to grow, and development keeps pace, it is the responsibility of government to manage and maintain public works, update old systems with new technologies, and fight for the right to say enough is enough.

Population pressures are more than just mind-numbing traffic gridlock, infill development, crowded surf breaks, and no place to park. Population pressures also come in the form of homeless amphibians, disappearing wildlife habitat, and the constant flow human fecal matter.

Like the frogs of Nofufi, the floating fish of Buena Vista lagoon, are canaries of a different sort. Will we heed the warning? How much human waste our we willing dump into the environment? How much of the environment are we willing to waste to accommodate more people? How many people is too many?

How much shit can we stand?

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