Board hears details of the newly released New River Strategic Plan

Wetlands in the Imperial Valley
Wetlands along the New River is just one aspect of a multi-faceted plan to clean up the polluted river.


(August 17, 2012, EL CENTRO) – Miguel Figueroa, Executive Director of the Calexico New River Committee presented to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday the recently released New River Improvement Strategic Plan.
This plan is in compliance with a bill authored by Assemblyman Victor Perez. The plan is to study, monitor, and remediate the New River’s water quality and develop a river parkway suitable for the public to use and enjoy. The creation of a river parkway in Calexico is also called for in Federal legislation.
Figueroa said the plan will identify the present water quality and the specific threat to the public’s health, identify ways to protect the citizen’s health and meet state and federal water quality objectives, identify ways to pay for the plan, and finally to name the public agencies who should have a role and responsibility in implementing the strategic plan.

The Problem 

New River trash along Mexican border
Trash accumulates on the New River at the grates separating the Mexican and US border.

  The New River is severely polluted by discharges of wastes from domestic, agricultural and industrial sources in Mexico and the Imperial Valley. New River pollution not only threatens public health, but prevents healthy wildlife and other biological life in the New River and contributes to the water quality problems of the Salton Sea. The New River pollution also hinders businesses that normally occur  next to clean rivers.
Based on the most recent available data, the following water quality problems are evident in the New River on the U.S. side of the U.S.-Mexico International Boundary: pathogens, low dissolved oxygen (DO), toxicity, trash, selenium, sediment/silt, chlordane, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), dieldrin, toxaphene, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), hexaclorobenzene (HCB), nutrients and mercury.
In the past two decades, great progress has been made on both sides of the border. In Mexicali and its surroundings, with technical and financial assistance from the U.S., Mexico has built municipal wastewater treatment facilities to serve 97% of that urban area. This has resulted in improved water quality in the New River.
However, Mexico’s standards for New River water quality are considerably less stringent than the U.S. standards because Mexico classifies the New River as a drain, not a river.
Calexico is the most directly impacted by this difference in standards because of its location directly downstream from Mexico.
The plan divides the New River problems into five specific areas: “M” Mexicali Reach- from the Mexicali Valley to the International Boundary; Calexico Reach- from the International Boundary to Highway 98; Seeley Reach- from Highway 98 to Evan Hughes Highway at Seeley; Brawley Reach- from Evan Hewes Highway to New River Drop 2 by Brawley; Salton Sea Reach- from New River Drop 2 to its outlet to the Salton Sea.
Mexicali Reach 7 point plan includes ensuring Mexico complies with treaty minutes and offering technical and  maintenance advice to their water treatment facilities.
The Calexico reach would include constructing, operating, and maintaining trash screens for the New River immediately downstream from the International Boundary in the U.S., or assist Mexico in constructing a trash screen.
The plan for agricultural pollution was twofold: the U.S. Government should continue to work with entities such as Desert Wildlife Unlimited and the Citizens Congressional Task Force on The New River to continue constructing wetlands in strategic locations along the New River and  tributary agricultural drains  as well as constructing  low cost streambed aeration facilities in the New River Channel.
The second part involves monitoring and providing  agricultural source control through the Imperial Irrigation District Drain Water Quality Improvement Program and the Imperial County Farm Bureau Voluntary TMDL Compliance Program for the silt TMDLs requiring the farming industry to implement management practices to address all other pollutants of concern from the agricultural industry, not just silt; and revise its General NPDES Permit for feedlots to provide containment of and prevent untreated discharges from 100-year storm events.
With the federal government and California both being cash strapped, partial funding comes from resources that have already been committed to the project including $3.2 million for the River Parkway, $800,000 for project planning efforts and $400,000 for strategic planning. Additional funds have been authorized ($20 million), but not appropriated for water quality improvements through the Army Corps 2007 Water Resources Development Act. In addition to pursuing these appropriations, other funding sources could include: Proposition 84 funds for Integrated Regional Water Management programs, the 2012 State Water Bond, Salton Sea funding, California River Parkways, State Water Board Clean Up and Abatement funds, Clean Water Act funds and possibly public-private funding from the geo-thermal, small hydro-electric or other renewable energy industry.
To read the New River Improvement Strategic Plan go to