In Mexicali, a few blocks from the U.S. border, Michelle Hernández and Fernando Contreras speak in front of a municipal drain recently cleared of trash with a clear sense of purpose. Both recent graduates of the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, Michelle and Fernando are now key players in the Sonoran Institute’s first urban restoration project in Mexicali. This project aims to remove vast amounts of trash from Mexicali’s drains, getting the community involved to discourage further littering and revitalizing these illegal dump sites with trees, benches, and paths.
As Project Coordinator, Michelle writes plans and proposals for funding, helps form community volunteer groups to maintain restoration sites and collaborates with government agencies. However, the hardest part of her job, she says, is environmental education: changing some Mexicali residents’ mindsets on waste disposal is a great challenge.
The Sonoran Institute has received funding to restore six of Mexicali’s many trash-clogged drains, and these sites were chosen with the mapping expertise of Fernando, the Institute’s GIS (Global Information Systems) Coordinator. Fernando uses ArcGIS to construct models of potential restoration sites, analyzing topography, groundwater depth, and other features to help select the optimum locations for restoration. In Mexicali, the drains that Fernando has chosen flow to California’s Salton Sea and have communities and schools nearby. In this way, Fernando and Michelle’s work benefits not only the residents of Mexicali, but thousands of U.S. citizens as well.
“Everyday we’re preparing and learning to do things better,” Fernando explains from a new litter-free path at the Dren (Drain) Internacional. “I like the work because I can really see the product of my efforts.”
By Thomas Meinzen