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Martina Dobesh

Water Watch 2022! Part 2

I stood on a hilltop with Cornelio Zapata, a 30 year resident of La Misión. We look down on the estuary and the la Misión River. He shakes his head and says with deep concern, “I have never seen the river so low. It use to run all the way out to the ocean and there were clear pure swimming places. Now it is green with algae.” His small comfortable home was once the only dwelling on the hill. He has had at one time a vast nearly 360 degree view of the ocean and all the way to the eastern mountains. Now it is surrounded by huge multilevel homes all needing water. He is experiencing for the first time a new water restriction.  Senor Zapata added that his good friend, who grew the sweetest white corn, can’t grow it this year; his pump can no longer reach the aquifer which is now too low. While La Misión has always had a natural supply of water from the mountain region and aquifers, it is being threatened. The major cities of Tijuana to Ensenada are impacted by the Colorado River allotment cutbacks which were reported in Part 1 of Water Watch 2022.  

Local Reports and Solutions for 2022 Historically people act when motivated to do so. The question is will we be forced into this new reality? Will it be a wakeup to learn we have outgrown Baja’s natural resources, as well as the Colorado River allotment of 1944? Senior Zapata is not the only one in La Misión with water issues. Several new mega houses were built next to his home and neither was given access to water by La Misión Water Company. These homes will rely on the water trucks to chug up the hill. It is reported that the truck owners have their own private wells where they fill up their trucks. Many of the easy sources dried up this year. 

John Stadelmann, The President of the Board of Directors for ten years of La Misión Water Company addresses this in his newly released video.  He is proud to announce that water delivery to the homes in La Misión has been “spectacular,” compared to CSPT delivery records in Tijuana and Ensenada. CSPT has frequent break downs and repairs, and “they just don’t have enough water to go around.” Mr. Stadelmann goes on to say that it is important to know the Water Board operates on a license with CONAGUA, the federal water board for all of Mexico. These licenses have 10 year duration, but La Misión’s expired in 2018. Given the fact that high powered lawyers have worked hard to resolve this, the license is still not renewed four years later. “There is a rumor, Stadelmann shared, “between water experts and lawyers that CONAGUA has an intent to close the small private wells to make it possible to give the big municipal suppliers like CSPT of Tijuana and Ensenada, more water volume to distribute.” The La Misión Water Company will fight to keep their water rights.

Mr. Stadelmann continued, “The second more immediate and larger threat comes from within our very community.” CONAGUA, dictates just how much water can be pump from the aquifer each year. Consider the fact that we are able to pump 10 million gallons per year! All the rules on usage per household are driven by this limit.” He said that in 2018 the community rarely used more than two-thirds of the total, and were safely within the limit. But in 2021 it shot up to 82%; at this rate the usage will exceed the license by 2024. Stadelmann warns, “If the abuses continue CONAGUA can shut down our well. It would be an utter catastrophe.” He points a finger directly at the issue of the increase in homes being built and the thoughtless chronic over users. The water is not for swimming pools, fountains, or landscapes. “These chronic over users could be the cause of our license to be repealed…The message is simple, the solutions are not. We all must use a whole lot less if we expect to continue to live here. It requires education, reeducation, some technology and lots of discipline. We are in it together.” These words apply to every coastal community in this state.

Local Reports and long time resident of Bajamar, Ruth Rockwell, says that they have had to close 9 holes of the golf course. Residents in Ensenada are out of city water for a week or more.  Punta Del Mar uses their gray water for landscaping. San Antonio Del Mar is attempting to put together a plan to become self-sufficient, and not rely on the government’s delivery system. John Stadelmann stresses that the water trucks will have to travel to the high plateau and fill from the catch basin which is meant to recharge the underground sources. The increase in rates can’t be far behind. It is skillful to question any new developers as to how they will address their own water and wastewater issues. It isn’t how beautiful the future home may appear, but will there be water to flush the toilet. 

Real Solutions should have begun two decades ago. Now it is a rush to catch up, if and when the issue seems real enough in people’s minds. Humanity along the Colorado River has literally drunk the once mighty Colorado dry. Drilling deeper and desal plants are future timelines with major issues. Be careful falling into false hope; be part of the solution and not part of the problem.  If there is a first most important step it would be to appreciate and develop gratitude for the water every time we use it. Realize how many times a day we need it. Appreciation can create the first abatement to our overuse. The next step, get serious about the water declines. We can act now from the comfort of our homes. Create appreciation by taking a few minutes to watch the two videos below. Educate yourself and look for personal solutions. Support the front line workers and begin to understand that we are all interdependent and share this extraordinary water network. 

Martina is a Freelance writer, see her ad for ordering her travel book, Dust In My Sandals

Contact Information:

Margarita Diaz Directora Proyecto Fronterizo

664-630-0590, Cell 664-188-62-36

[email protected]   www.pfea.org

John Stadelmann link for La Misión

Videos of our Water’s 86 mile journey to our homes

www.cea.gob.mx/arct.html

Water Watch 2022

Water Watch for 2022 is a portent of times to come. I first began writing about where the water for Baja California came from in 2007. There were warnings even then. It was said that the 21st century would be about water as the 20th century has been about oil. More recently you will find on the Gringo Gazette website a two part Water Watch, August for 2021: Part 1, “Our Water Supply is Not Unlimited,” informed the readers that 86% of our water comes from the Colorado River and the amazing feat of engineering that went into bringing the water down from the Colorado River. Part 2 of Water Watch warned of the cuts to our allotment from the Colorado River that would be coming in 2022. The cuts are here now. There is no report of any new progress to avert more shortages, and it would seem most people are still unaware of the critical facts.

In April of this year, San Antonio Del Mar held a community workshop on their issue of water and sewage treatment. While their main focus was the toxicity of the ocean waters that still take the run off wastewater from Tijuana, Margarita Diaz, the Directora Proyecto Fronterizo, was there to give a comprehensive overview of what is happening with the water for Baja. Her report was dismal.  The facts laid out in the first Water Watch articles last year have worsened today. These facts are based on the continuation of a 22-year drought, extreme heat in the west, agriculture usage, and over development. 

Margarita is a thirty year Water Protector veteran, cofounder of the nonprofit; Proyecto Fronterizo de Educación Ambiental A.C, PFEA, for awareness has had a rough go of it. She is a one woman visionary attempting to move a stagnate consciousness of the people. She has been met with a lack of interest; however, more recently, she is facing unfriendly and harsh resistance. She presented her facts with impassioned clarity to the small community turn out. Her opening statement that day was having heard from her colleagues in Utah. This is a state which is part of the Upper River Basin and it is a beneficiary of water from the once mighty river. It was a disconcerting laugh as she explained, “They are really stressed. And that made me think if they are stress up there, how stressed should I be?”  She held the microphone and pointed to the charts, “The cut are here now!” 

She reported that there is no longer any underground water for the Tecate Brewery which uses a huge amount of water in producing beer, and continued, “At this time due to the water cuts, Mexicali farmers are selling their water to Tijuana as the city’s population continues to grow. Margarita’s frustration level is pretty high when most recently she faced the men of CEPT and was told, “Don’t worry we have the Colorado and they have to give us the water.” And yet another insightful comment, “Don’t worry we have the ocean.” This fiery Mexicana rose up to her 5’ 4”stature and asked them point blank, “So, you are planning on drinking the ocean?” They had no response.

As Margarita pointed out, Lake Mead is a barometer for Baja’s water cuts. If the level should drop below a certain point, no water can be issued because there would not be enough water to turn the massive turbines that produce electricity at Hoover Dam; one of the largest hydropower plants in the United States. The 1944 treaty gave Baja an allotment of water, but was amended in 2017 dealing with the decline in US reservoirs. 2022 is the first year of the cuts and will automatically be reduced further for Arizona, Nevada, California and Baja. Whether or not you follow the Climate Change as a factor of life, you don’t have to be a scientist to know that if you leave a bowl of water out in the hot sun it will evaporate.  The Colorado River is like a big bowl of water that runs through the desert. The intensification of summer heat in the west creates a more rapid increase of evaporation. Rain and snow pack reductions each year are not filing the reservoirs and have not for a very long time. One spokes person said that it would take 4 years of rains and heavy winter snow packs to bring water levels back to sustainable. One of the reports Margarita shared came from the Utah Rivers Council who put it in laypersons terms. “The Colorado River is like a household income source and the reservoirs are like a huge savings account. For the last 20 years, the household’s income has declined and the residents of the house have been living off their savings. Yet some house residents don’t realize they have been slowly draining their savings account.” After Margarita finished telling us like it is, she apologized and wished she could give us some fast fix. Carol Clary, water activist and resident of San Antonio reported, “The reaction in the community to the workshop was total shock about the coming scarcity.” At this moment in time no one really knows what is going to turn this around locally, but waiting for Mexico to build a number of saltwater desal plants or being  “hopeful” that it rains is looking foolish in the face of the reality of the present situation.

A recent report in the New York Times announces a “formal declaration” of the water crisis…as hundreds of thousands more people have moved to the regions. After years of signs, finally a declaration! With groundwater rapidly depleting, California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought and it would seem Baja California doesn’t either.

Since there has been an unprecedented mistrust of the news media of late, some people use the words “conspiracy” or “fake news” for anything that makes them nervous or they disagree with. Facts are facts and how people process the facts is the real issue. In our case here in Baja, one only needs to look with their own eyes as levels in the reservoirs dropping or talk to the local farmers whose water pumps are not deep enough this year to reach the vanishing aquifers. Famiglietti went on to report that “parts of California have already depleted their primary reserves of groundwater and are now drilling deeper – tapping into prehistoric reserves that cannot be readily replaced. As these prehistoric aquifers are mined, they suffer irreversible structural damage.” Vance Kennedy, a retired research hydrologist for the Central Valley clearly states in a Mother Jones interview, “What I see going on is a future disaster…you are removing water that’s been there a long, long time. We are mining water that cannot be readily replaced.” 

 Man has never had much of a consideration for the Earth from which they extract their resources. Humanity learns the hard way about their planet that sustains them. In addressing Baja’s water allotment from the Colorado River, California is setting the precedence for cutting water to agriculture. Living in Baja we need to keep watch on what is happening north of us, because whatever happens up there will come down the pipeline to us, euphemistically speaking. It is unlikely we will hear anything about what is happening in Baja unless we do our research.  We don’t have easy access to local information from authorities as to what they are doing or not doing.  Margareta clearly spelled out that the local offices “are not talking to one another and the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.” All along the coast south of Rosarito there are 11 new condo developments underway and Primo Tapia has two massive housing projects; one is clearing a whole mountain above Primo Tapia and another is actually attempting to build on sand dunes south of town. If we are questioning, we have to wonder where the water is coming from to provide these developers’ needs for water to build the cement and concrete blocks constructions. More importantly where is the sustainable water flow to the households once built? Nevertheless, development continues “as if” there will be water for thousands of new homes in the foreseeable future. Baja California is a passive player in how water will be allocated from the Colorado’s complicated system of delivery. At this time, if it gets rough, it appears that we are holding out our cups expecting to have our kind neighbors to the north share. Historically the United States does not have a good track record keeping its treaty agreements with its own Native Americans.  Should our spigots run dry, it is questionable that our 1944 Treaty with them is much of a safeguard. 

Take the Tour! Our Water’s Impressive 87-mile journey to our homes  

www.cea.gob.mx/arct.html

For Updated Water information and Group Presentation

Margarita Diaz Directora Proyecto Fronterizo

[email protected]

Editors Note: Martina is a freelance writer, journalist and author of Dust in My Sandals, Tales from a Baja Traveler. See our ad and order today!

The Wine Country Under Siege, Part 2

BREAKING NEWS! Just as we were going to press, on September 28th, the wine growers filed a legal appeal before a District judge, to force the Municipal Government of Ensenada to apply the regulations to protect the conservation areas from further illegal land sales. Civil requests of the Municipal have been ignored for over two years. This action is one of two hopeful signs of a healthy direction for the Valle de Guadalupe’s future. That appeal has just been granted by a State judge.

 In part 1 of this story it was clearly stated the rapid growth in just the last five years in overdevelopment and illegal land sales is at critical level. It was shown that the Guadalupe Valley is at a crossroads and decisions need to be made about the course correction. Agriculture, development, community and water are all at risk and need protection. Rapid-growth tourism is a threat to grape production, posing issues for landscape and water usage. 

In the midst of this critical period for the Guadalupe Valley a historic event is taking place. Baja California has elected their very first women governor on June 5, 2021. Marina de Pilar Avila will be sworn in for a six year term November 1st.  She is young, beautiful and very smart as well as politically savvy from her years in Congress and holds a law degree. The first thing she did was call winemakers from the valley to accompany her to Napa, California wine region. The Governor-elect was already clear about one of her priorities to shepherd the wine industry into 2022. She told the press she wanted to be known as the Wine Governor. Being a good politician she knows it is important to align herself with the popular perception of what Baja California has to offer for sustainable tourism. While there are an infinite number of treasures in the unique landscape of the entire peninsula with its tallest mountains, unique desert landscapes and the seas surrounding it, it is the wine country which captures most of the press.

 In Part 1, Fernando Pérez Castro of Lomita Winery revealed many of the issues that threaten wine production. He was one of the vintners asked to travel with Governor-elect Marina to Napa, California in mid September. Fernando said, “Before she even took office, she wanted to see what a well developed wine region looked like. We were able to talk with Napa vintners, with Napa Green and many associated with the development and sustainability. We were surprised to find our own guidelines for self regulations were very aligned with what Napa has put into place.” 

Kicking off her campaign, the Governor-elect intends to keep Ensenada as the Capital of Mexican wine country. In terms of promotion and tourism she knows the importance of this acknowledgement. Fernando points out, “Now what we must do with her is for her to understand what it means in terms of sustainability. It is a tricky thing and an important issue is what is happening, especially considering that the land is not sold in a proper way. If you have the laws to protect the landscape and conservation this will attract a different kind of investor.” The infrastructure is also needed for all the people who call the valley their home. 

Fernando shared his vision, “We want to share with the world that we are the Mexican wine country. We have an opportunity to build a sustainable region, but if we continue to be complicit, looking the other way we will repeat history. The top priority on Marina’s agenda is setting new laws for the conservation areas. In doing this she will solve half the problem of the land sales in those areas in the first 90 days as governor.” Fernando paused and looked into the future, “This gives us a big message of hope.”

Fernando’s hard hitting message may be quite unpopular with some of the newer projects in the valley. “Right now we are making the best Mexican wines. We want the best hotels and Mexican restaurants that are on par with our wine. We don’t want cantinas, bars, Mixology, because it does not add to the value of the wine culture, it downgrades it. If you want those things, there are many places in Rosarito, Ensenada or TJ to find that entertainment. Simply put, if you want wine, you come to the wine region.” He stopped for a moment in his vision of the future and states, “When you mix the lack of vision and corruption of the authorities with the predatory instinct of bad developers it brings a huge mess. If the laws are not observed to create something unsustainable, we will have a lawless environment due to our complicity.” He paused and said, “And you can quote me on that!”

Finally Fernando speaks with the passion of the winemaker, “The Governor-elect has positioned people around her who understand what needs to be done to make the Valle de Guadalupe a globally recognized wine region.” Before they adjourned the conference Fernando told Marina, “The future of the wine region is in your hands. We are even willing to sacrifice our production to make the changes.” His closing statement was a wakeup, “We will know in six years for good or for ill that the destiny of the Valle de Guadalupe will be established.” 

Voices of Other Visionaries

Natalia Badan of Mogor Winery has lived her entire life in this valley. She has been an activist for conservation for decades.  In a 2017 interview I talked with Natalia about what she has seen since 2007. She smiled knowingly as she spoke, “Boom. Suddenly we are in fashion. This is good as it moves into the local economy. On the other hand we have to stay very conscious in order to keep the landscape pristine and beautiful. We have to watch for too much growth too fast that would contaminate what we really care about. If we grow too fast, we can’t go back.” She pointed to the hills, “Here we want slow growth and to keep this small and beautiful.” She punctuated, “Small IS beautiful. We can then be caregivers and invite harmonious groups to enjoy the whole afternoon. Here we watch the sunrise, the sunset, moon and stars and all of this care is part of producing wine.”

MSc Paula Pijoan, Masters in Science and Native Vegetation Consultant

“My vision is for people to understand that protecting the landscape means protecting ourselves. The common practice when people buy land, or prepare it to be sold, is to fence it and then clear it with heavy machinery (“limpiar” in Spanish, which means to clean).

The problem with the practice is that when the land is bulldozed its native vegetation is lost. This brings enormous problems such as:

The soil loses its ability to absorb and retain water from rains

If rains are strong, erosion and landslides happen

The bare soil creates constant dust in the air 

Plants harbor animals so clearing them leaves native animals without shelter and food, forcing them to migrate to ever smaller natural spaces.

Loss of landscape, beautiful vistas and the sounds of the nature.

What we propose:

Integrate the native vegetation to the project as native gardens, only clearing the areas where constructions will be built (this saves thousands of dollars!!!)

Incorporate patches or corridors of native vegetation on grape plantations: they help reduce erosion and control pests thanks to the beneficial insects present there. 

If native vegetation isn´t present anymore, attempt to restore it

Tom Hack of En’Kanto Winery

As small grape growers dedicated to regenerative farming and minimal intervention winemaking, our hope is that those in a position to set policy and execute enforcement will find both the will and ability to reign in the efforts of individuals who seek to exploit the region for excessive profits that undermine the agricultural base and culture that forms the foundation of Mexican Wine Country. For this agricultural base to survive, from which tourism is a byproduct, the crops, livestock and farming communities must have fair water allocation and priority especially over businesses that demand water consumption only to provide late night entertainment and unrelated activities that tax the fragile ecosystem that we depend on. Wine culture goes hand in hand, and businesses that detract from the agricultural life or the art and passion of winemaking must be strictly limited in wine country as they do not serve to grow the industry or the culture from which they seek to profit without adding value.

Gerard Zanzónico, Vinos Zanzónico  

Vinos Zanzónico was given the coveted Robert Parker 100 point award in 2013. Gerard is now consultant for MD Winery and produces his own label, Vinos Zanzónico . He began his passion for winemaking in the early years of Napa Valley.  “The Baja wine industry has grown into a world-wide destination. The beginning of this journey was founded on vision, deep passion and a desire to produce world class wines. With this foundation the winemakers and growers have attracted people from other wine regions to add a little spice to the wines of this region. Now, with new growth and a changing mix of world class wines and restaurants other destinations have been developed which confuses the theme. The question we should be asking ourselves is, “Who and What are we?”

“The wine industry of 2021 needs vision and a strong voice to clarify the direction that answers the necessary questions which will guide the future. As I see it, the next generation of visionaries will need to be clear of where they are going based on the vision of being a world class destination. The wines of Baja California are on the edge of worldwide recognition as a renowned region for the highest quality of wines. All of us in the Guadalupe Valley need strong leaders to be the future stewards of this land.”

Editor Note: Martina Dobesh is a freelance writer, journalist and author of two books. New on Amazon, Dust in My Sandals, Tales from a Baja Traveler, take a peek inside and look for our ad to find out what people are saying. 

If you missed Part 1, read it here…

The Wine Country Under Siege, Part 1

There is a quiet war being waged in the Valle de Guadalupe. It has been going on for years and now can easily be seen in the rapid development scraping the land clean making way for new projects. At first it appeared to be a positive thing for the people in the small pueblos and the expansion of new wineries was exciting. Most casual visitors would not have taken notice of the more serious concerns taking place in this lush valley in Baja California. Fernando Pérez Castro, owner of Lomita winery agreed to speak for the community activist group called, Por Un Valle de Verdada, “The Fight for a Real Valley.” The people who call the Valle de Guadalupe home as well as the business men and women and the wine makers want the growth to happen in a sustainable way. This is not the case as development surges to new heights. The Valle de Guadalupe is at a cross roads and the decisions made now are the most critical for its future.

Fernando’s father brought his family to the valley sixteen years ago. Fernando joined the ongoing concerns of the other activists eight years ago. He is passionate about sustainably and the future directions of the wine culture. There are two choices to make and it will take a powerful group effort to make the correct choice between a world class wine region and tourism.  The trend that is now obvious is the new investments have no respect for the three most important ingredients for a Wine producing region: Agriculture, water and landscape. He stressed, “It is import to recognize Valle de Guadalupe as a sanctuary because the weather conditions we have here and the environment we have here makes a very unique wine. We are not martyrs or tree huggers. We need to fight, because we know the direction development is taking”

Fernando states, “There are a lot of things at risk, if we don’t take care of how things are developed. For the last 25 years, the people of this region have been telling the government they have not been implementing the laws that would protect the land. There has been a level of corruption taking place…that have permitted 2500 acres of land to be sold in irregular ways.”  He suggested the newest of investors are buying land without formal papers, exploiting the land not for wine production. He is clear that greed and not implementing the law are destroying the possibility of a true wine culture. “We do not need discos, Mixology, or massive events which strain the resources. It is clearly a lack of vision. If people want those things they can go to Ensenada, Rosarito, or TJ where they are already established. When people want world class wine, hotels and restaurants they will come here.”

He continues, “We have seen this story before, and we are witnessing the Valle de Guadalupe turning into something that will not sustain growth. The laws are not being implemented to protect this from happening. When you let investors exploit the tourism, not respecting the wine culture, it is enviable things will begin to happen.  Agriculture, water, community and landscape have to be protected and when you don’t a different kind of business will take advantage of the tourism that the wine country already has. They will offer different experiences. So then the true nature of the wine region starts to downgrade. And when you downgrade a destination, you attract a certain type of people. Many people are looking for different experiences and looking for entertainment. Drugs are a natural progression of this downturn. What I am trying to say is that the Guadalupe wine country has all the opportunities to be upgraded in different ways.” An important note is that 75% of all Mexican wine is produced in the Valle de Guadalupe and careful growth and quality tourism is essential for future production. 

Fernando continues, “There are not enough infrastructures to maintain the summer visitors and massive event. The people who live in the 3 small Pueblos suffer the most. These people and their communities have no sewage system and frequently do not have water.” He further explained, that it is obvious when thousands of people come for a weekend visit, they do not understand the impact they are making. One down turn which Fernando attributes to this issue are the deplorable road conditions with axel breaking potholes. He admitted that the roads were never meant to endure thousands of cars during hot summer days. Even the simple act of flushing a toilet becomes a monumental problem as 90% of the hotels are without sewage systems. It takes water to flush and shower; water which the grapes need.  Fernando stressed, “It is becoming a social problem, a problem of sustainability, and also becoming a security problem. In the past we never heard of these kinds of problems.”

A decade ago the history of the valley claimed that only one violent death had ever happened, and the community was proud to say so. Today’s statistics are dreadful as Fernando reports, “Last year the monthly rate of violent death was one per month; now it is six per month. We need guards on our wineries because if we don’t, it threatens both the wineries and the visitors with theft and vandalism.  We want sustainable tourism, and we know how to build this in a thoughtful way through appropriate landscaping with the native plants and water conservation.”  Fernando sites that it is important for people to know if they are buying land in the conservation area it is illegal. These sales have been overlooked by the Ensenada Municipal for many years allowing for the current downturn in quality projects. Any investment now in the valley is at risk. Fernando worries, “I’m not sure I will have a winery to pass on to my children.  It is very very uncertain that we can continue to make wine.” He further stresses, “We are not against tourism, development, nor do we hate real estate. The problem is that people don’t realize how fragile this region is.  We have to protect the balance because our area is incredibly suitable for making high quality wines.”

Water is the most important factor for the future of The Guadalupe Valley region. A huge project that would be both time consuming and costly has been consider for years. This would be piping Tijuana recycled water to the valley. As one can imagine, there are many issue involved and one being the quality of the water that would be received. However, recently a delegation from Baja met with Napa Valley winemakers and business people to learn that they water exclusively now with recycled water.  Any solution about the water necessary to sustain the production of wine will take time and money, Fernando knows “there is no short term solution.” He sites that in 2018 a government group studied the impact of tourism on the aquifers of the region. This diagnostic survey came back with an alarming finding. If growth continues drawing water only form the aquifers, they will be dry by 2030. That is only 8 years away and the decisions now are critical for any further developments.  The “Hope” for rain has past its usefulness. It will take a clear vision to create and maintain a sustainable balance between wine production and tourism.

 In Part 2 there is positive action on the horizon with a new governor taking office in two months who understands the importance of the Guadalupe Valley as a world class wine producing region. The question is will it be swift enough to avoid the inevitable outcome?

UPDATE: Part 2 of this article can be found here…

Editor’s note: Martina is a freelance writer, journalist and author of two books. Her newest book, Dust in My Sandals, Tales from a Baja Traveler, is now on Amazon. See our ad for what people are saying.

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