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Pala representative addresses SANDAG committee


Last updated 12/8/2006 at Noon

A representative from the Pala Band of Mission Indians gave a presentation at the San Diego Association of Governments’ Borders Committee November 17 meeting on the binational tribal effort to improve water quality and community health in indigenous communities near the US/Mexico border.

Paula Stigler, whose actual title with the Pala Band of Mission Indians is Air Quality Specialist but whose duties encompass environmental health, addressed the efforts in the Baja California tribal areas.

There are two Native American indigenous groups in Baja California with a permanent land base entirely within 100 kilometers of the international border: the Kumeyaay and the Cocopah. A third group, the Paaypaay, is mostly but not entirely within the 100-kilometer boundaries. The two Baja California groups comprise approximately half a dozen different communities, and all are directly related to tribes in the United States.

Many of the Baja California tribal communities utilize hand-dug wells or spring boxes. Problems include insufficient capacity for operation and maintenance, water availability, water quality, and non-point source contamination along with source protection.

“Storage and transportation is a huge issue in these communities,” Stigler said.

The JAJAN Coalition took drinking water samples in the Baja California communities, and all of the samples were contaminated with the E. coli bacteria. Warnings, along with the data, were given to the community members. Environmental health and sanitary surveys were taken in the same communities, and the results showed gastrointestinal problems as well as concerns over water transportation and storage practices.

The Pala Band of Mission Indians sponsored a project to conduct sanitary site inspection and water quality testing in seven communities, and the US Environmental Protection Agency chipped in $36,000 to conduct an assessment. The assessment was followed by recommendations for improvements to the water systems.

The Mexican government added funding, and the installation of new water systems at San Jose de la Zorra and San Antonio Necua commenced. “As of today they actually have something in place,” Stigler said. “They no longer have to go and fetch water by buckets or worry about contaminated wells.”

United States and Mexican tribes have been participating in tribal caucus meetings, training, and community forums. “It’s been tribe to tribe communications,” Stigler said.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency and Mexican government agencies have also been brought into the process. Stigler acts as the moderator and translator for the meetings with the EPA and the Mexican agencies. “The Mexican government has been listening,” she said.

The EPA’s Border 2012 program has provided $56,000 of funding for community capacity building to provide system operation and maintenance, and the Pan American Health Organization is expected to sponsor an epidemiological study to determine a related association between the improved access to drinkable water and improved health among the community members in the two communities with the new systems.


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