Crowdsourcing helps tackle environmental injustice in California's Imperial Valley

 

The border city of Calexico, Calif. -- population 27,000; 95 percent Latino; 25 percent poverty rate -- is the kind of place where environmental laws are enforced last, if at all. But a local task force of residents, academics, and environment and health officials hope to change that. Last year, they launched the Imperial Visions Action Network (IVAN). The interactive website relies on county residents to report environmental problems, alerting "environmental justice problem solvers" in the California Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC), who then investigate, gather evidence and recommend action.  

Since August 2010, Imperial County residents have reported 54 incidents. Agencies have investigated most of them; a few have already led to enforcement. According to Luis Olmedo, executive director of the community health group Comite Civico, an IVAN founder, transparency makes the system work. When everyone knows about a problem, he says, "who wants to be the agency that didn't come back with answers?" And citizens can help solve environmental problems if they understand government's capabilities and limitations. Says Olmedo: "We've gone from a victimized community to a problem-solving community."