EL CENTRO — The New River; a topic constantly being brought to the attention of officials, but never truly addressed according to the Imperial County Board of Supervisors. They approved an action item, Tuesday, October 8, to send a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom regarding the New River, urging him to take a leadership role in addressing the pollution.
Governor Newsom has taken action regarding discharge of pollutants in the Tijuana River in San Diego County. Imperial County supervisors invited Newsom to Imperial County for a tour of the community, including the New River.
The letter said, “We would like to show you the conditions that we live in due to the lack of action taken by the federal government to address the pollution, raw sewage, and other contaminants that are being discharged into the New River by Mexico.”
The river starts in Mexicali and travels north into the United States through Calexico. The New River continues through Imperial County, draining into the Salton Sea. According to county CEO Tony Rohoutas, efforts have been made on both sides of the border for decades in efforts to clear pollutants from the river. However, raw sewage continues to spill into the river, causing concern for public health.
The letter said, “Due to failing and inadequate sewage infrastructure in the city of Mexicali, the river is severely contaminated with raw sewage, waste, and industrial chemicals.”
According to the letter, the heavily polluted river has contributed to declining real estate prices, and a loss of businesses and economic development opportunities in the area west of Calexico.
Binational projects were completed between 1997 and 2007 to address the ongoing issue. However, the California State Water Resources Control Board notified the federal government in 2014 that Mexicali was experiencing increased sewage discharge into the New River.
“Over the past five years, the county has been notified of numerous discharges of millions of gallons of untreated sewage into the New River,” the letter stated.
The letter also said the the Imperial County Board of Supervisors has taken several assertive actions to engage the federal government. Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission for violating the Clean Water Act.
County Supervisors have invited Attorney General Becerra to visit the New River and southern border community. In March 2019, they asked for similar action to be taken in regards to the New River.
The letter states, “We want to explore options for state funding and priority consideration in available programs, similar to recent action taken through the passage and signing of AB 690 and $15 million appropriated through the state budget for Tijuana River Valley projects.”