Campus: San Diego State University -- February 9, 2005

SDSU, Mexican University Complete Comprehensive Tijuana River Watershed Atlas

Researchers at San Diego State University, along with partners around San Diego and at El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF) in Mexico, have completed the most comprehensive set of geographical data ever assembled about the Tijuana River watershed, a crucial step toward successful long-term planning and management for the fast-growing binational area.

The Tijuana River Watershed Atlas, in development for nearly a decade, includes approximately 80 photographs, maps, and text in English and Spanish. It captures much of the diversity and complexity of the watershed, a 1,750-square-mile drainage basin that stretches from the Pacific Ocean at the Tijuana River Estuary north to Mount Laguna and southeast into remote mountains and valleys located well inside Baja California.

Richard Wright, professor of geography at SDSU and Rafael Vela of COLEF, general editors of the project, said the new atlas is an important breakthrough because it presents the first unified view of the watershed as seen by scholars on both sides of the border.

"For the first time, policymakers and planners from the United States and Mexico can work from a common set of data," Wright said. "That has been one of the impediments to binational cooperation over the watershed in the past. If you're not working with the same information, how can you productively discuss your similarities and differences of opinion?"

The atlas, a boxed set of dozens of maps, photos and text each suitable for display on a wall, includes many types of data, ranging from topography and climate information to human population and land use patterns.

In addition to serving as a policy and planning tool, Wright said the atlas also serves as an effective educational aid for demonstrating how the two nations are intertwined by the watershed's systems and landscape. More than 200 copies of the atlas are being provided to the San Diego Natural History Museum for use in the PROBEA project, a binational environmental teacher education program. Some copies of the atlas will be available to other educational agencies at no cost.

Compiling the atlas was a challenging endeavor at times, Wright said. The researchers had to arrange for National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) aircraft to fly over Mexican airspace to take aerial photographs of the areas of the watershed south of the border. SDSU partnered with the San Diego Association of Governments to obtain needed satellite imagery. Common classification systems had to be created in English and Spanish for some data, such as land use. In some cases, maps required extensive field work and many months of labor to produce.

For more information or to obtain copies of the atlas, call (619) 594-5423 or visit Funding for research and production of the Tijuana River Watershed Atlas was provided by the Southwest Consortium for Environmental Research and Policy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, NOAA, and SDSU's Institute for Regional Studies of the Californias (IRSC) and Department of Geography Center for Earth Systems Analysis Research. Harry Johnson of the Department of Geography was the chief cartographer for the atlas and Paul Ganster, director of IRSC, was the principal text editor.

Media Contact: Jason Foster,, (619) 594-2585

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