Integrating watershed management and environmental public health across borders

The solution presented here is a TV documentary and the process model by which it was created. The TV documentary was first aired on November 2, 2009 by UCSD-TV. The Global ARC partnered with UCSD-TV to create this documentary which enjoyed support from many organizations including UCSD’s Superfund Research Program, Urban Studies and Planning Program, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Sustainability Solutions Institute, Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies, and Office of International Affairs. A binational team of scientists, educators, multimedia experts, and government partners collaborated with community-based organizations to create the story-line.  It is a notable case of science communication focused on action research dealing with the water/climate/poverty nexus and transboundary environmental risks along the U.S.?Mexico Border.

The UCSD-TV documentary focuses on the water/climate/poverty nexus and transboundary environmental risk along the U.S.?Mexico Border. The photo above shows the planners table at an interdisciplinary brainstorm session designed to generate a script for the documentary. A range of scientific, technical and cultural challenges are raised in the documentary including the challenge to integrate environmental health science (ecotoxicology and biomolecular technologies) with climate change science and participatory watershed?based planning. UCSD-TV airs on Cox and Time Warner Ch. 135, Time Warner Del Mar Ch. 19, AT&T UVerse Ch. 99, and UHF (no cable) Ch. 35. For more information, program schedules and more, visit The direct link to the documenary is at:

A UCSD Press Release about the doucmentary is copied below:

UCSD-TV program follows researchers, students seeking sustainable solutions for Los Laureles Canyon settlement.


LA JOLLA, CA— There may be a border dividing us, but when it comes to the environmental challenges facing Los Laureles, a canyon that crosses the U.S.-Mexico border and spills into the sensitive wetlands of California’s Tijuana Estuary, we all must deal with the consequences. That’s why researchers and students from both countries have come together to try to affect change in this place that 65,000 people call home. The UCSD-TV documentary “Los Laureles Canyon: Research in Action” follows the story and premieres November 2 at 8pm on UCSD-TV, and online at

The canyon’s challenges demonstrate our environmental interconnectedness, despite the borders that divide us: open streams of untreated wastewater flow from the settlement into the California estuary that local wildlife depends upon for survival; recycled tires from the U.S. end up as the building blocks of retaining walls used to delay the inevitable erosion, while leaking dangerous toxins into the soil; and an increasingly dry climate causes more toxic dust for the residents to inhale. This unsustainable scenario is exactly what the researchers and students featured in the program are seeking to change.

UC San Diego Urban Studies and Planning Lecturer Keith Pezzoli leads the effort with what he refers to as “the scholarship of engagement.” He first gathered together experts in public health, environmental health science, climate change and urban planning from the U.S. and Mexico to review the area’s many challenges and devise an action plan.  Working closely with Oscar Romo of the Tijuana Estuary and Hiram Sarabia of the UCSD Superfund Research Program, Pezzoli then brought students and fellow researchers into the community to get their hands dirty building pervious pavers to place on top of the dusty roads, taking soil samples, interacting with canyon residents, and gaining an understanding of how academic research can have a direct impact on people’s lives.

“Los Laureles Canyon has profound urban and ecological problems,” said the program’s leader Keith Pezzoli.  “To tackle some of these problems—which are increasingly common in low-income human settlements worldwide—we’ve been experimenting with new ways to join science, education and community outreach. The UCSD-TV documentary tells this story with a hopeful outlook.”

The documentary is available on-line via four web sites. It has been viewed over 100,000 times from the UCSD-TV web site. It is being translated into Spanish; and it has been picked up by the NSF for re-broadcast on their Frontier program as part of the Research Channel (a consortium of leading research and academic institutions established to share the fruits of research with the public). Feedback on the documentary has been favorable. It has been presented in several major scientific meetings, and is now used in a number of courses in planning and the environmental sciences.

In terms of evaluation, we developed a study guide that we’ve been using to collect feedback from various groups we show the documentary to. The questionnaire / study guide is copied below:

Los Laureles Canyon: Research in ActionPlease keep the following questions in mind, each of which correspond to one of the documentary’s major aims. The questions are grouped using Aristotle’s classic categorization of knowledge types: episteme, techne and phronesis.

1. Episteme
Does the story convey the importance of bridging “epistemic cultures”(i.e., does it shed light on the value of transdisciplinary research collaboration as a way to foster new insights for integrative theorybuilding and problem solving)? More specifically, in the context of city region sustainability, environmental health and risk management, does the story highlight how planning and planning theory can contribute to (and be strengthened by) other academic fields and allied professions?

2. Techne
Does the story depict the featured technology, know-how and technological solutions in a sociospatial and historical context (i.e., does it bracket the power of technology—including advanced biomolecular and grassroots varieties—within a place-based, critically-aware ecological and institutional framework)?

3. Phronesis
Does the story convey a philosophy of science and planning grounded in judgment and wisdom (i.e., does the overarching narrative give you a sense of the storytellers experience-based normative perspective; does it evidence the wisdom of integrative, whole-systems approaches that value community-based, globally minded and participatory stewardship of coupled human-nature ecosystems)?

We have been evaluating various ways to efficiently share and archive video and imagery. We have decided to use Vimeo for video and Flickr for our images. Another on-line resource we use is called SciVee, the YouTube of science communication using postercasts and other novel means of sharing posters and papers using text and video. At some point we’ll need to evaluate these systems. It would be a good research project for someone.

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Challenge: Environmental public health, the built environment and planning

Principal Geographic Area:

  • Global
  • U.S.-Mexico Border



Supporting Documentation

Related Images

Southern Calif-Northern Baja Calif.

Los Laureles Canyon

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