New River (Mexico-United States)

New River (Mexico-United States)

Infobox River | river_name = New River

caption = Map of the New River (left) Watershed; Alamo River on the right.
origin =
mouth = Salton Sea
basin_countries = United States, Mexico
length = 125 km (81 mi)
elevation =
discharge = 18 m³/s (600 ft³/s)
watershed =
The New River flows north from the city of Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico into the United States through the city of Calexico, California. The river has been referred to as the most severely polluted river of its size within the United States.cite web | date = December 1, 1998 | url = | title = New River Pollution in Mexico, A Historical Overview | format = PDF | publisher = Regional Water Quality Control Board | accessdate = February 16 | accessyear = 2007] The creation of the New River, Alamo River, and Salton Sea of today started in the autumn of 1904, when heavy rainfall and snowmelt caused the Colorado River to swell and breach an Imperial Valley dike. The sudden influx of water and the lack of any drainage from the basin resulted in the formation of the Salton Sea; the rivers had re-created a great inland sea in an area that it had frequently inundated before, the "Salton Sink". It took nearly two years to control the Colorado River’s flow and stop the flooding, but it was effectively dammed in the early part of 1907 and returned to its normal course.

The New River flows north 15 miles (25 km) through Baja California and another 66 miles (100 km) through California into the Salton Sea, the largest lake in California. Flow at the border is approximately 200 ft³/s (6 m³/s), and about three times this flow at the Salton Sea because of collected agricultural discharges.

Pollution problems

The New River’s flow is composed of waste from agricultural and chemical runoff from the farm industry irrigation in the U.S. (18.4%) and Mexico (51.2%), sewage from Mexicali (29%), and manufacturing plants operating in Mexico (1.4%). By the time the New River crosses the U.S./Mexico border near Calexico, California, the channel contains a stew of about 100 contaminants: volatile organic compounds, heavy metals (including selenium, uranium, arsenic and mercury), and pesticides (including DDT) and PCBs. The waterway also holds the pathogens that cause tuberculosis, encephalitis, polio, cholera, hepatitis and typhoid; levels for many of these contaminants are in violation of United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Cal/EPA standards by several hundredfold.cite web | date = February 28, 1996 | url = | title = Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Division of Health Assessment and Consultation, Atlanta, Georgia | format = PDF | publisher = U.S. Department of Health and Human Services | accessdate = February 16 | accessyear = 2007] Fecal coliform bacteria are at levels of 100,000 to 16 million colonies per milliliter at the border checkpoint (possibly more, as this is the measuring capacity threshold), far above the U.S.-Mexico treaty limit of 240 colonies.cite web | date = March 6, 2006 | url = | title = Introduction to the New River/Mexicali Sanitation Program | format = HTML | publisher = State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) | accessdate = February 16 | accessyear = 2007] cite web | month = June | year = 2005 | url = | title = New River Water Quality Data | format = HTML | publisher = Colorado River Basin Regional Water Quality Control Board | accessdate = February 16 | accessyear = 2007]

Fertilizer runoff combined with the increasing salinity and inflow of highly polluted water from the New River have also resulted in large algal blooms and elevated bacteria levels in the Salton Sea; with the lack of an outlet, it is increasingly becoming an unstable system. The Salton Sea currently has a salinity exceeding 40‰ (parts per thousand), making it saltier than ocean water, and many species of fish are no longer able to survive in the Salton. It is believed that once the salinity surpasses 44‰, only the tilapia will be able to survive.

History of pollution

Although thorough documentation of the pollution prior to 1960 is unavailable, the New River had already been documented as a significant water pollution problem since the late 1940s, primarily because of its extremely high concentrations of fecal coliform bacteria and the stench at its entry to the U.S. Under provisions of the 1944 Water Treaty with Mexico, the governments of the United States and Mexico agreed to give preferential attention to the solution of all border sanitation problems. The International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) was first authorized by the two governments to study pollution of the New River from Mexico.Studies to correct the New River problem in 1947 and 1948 resulted in the recommendation by IBWC that a joint plant be constructed in the United States to treat the sewage of the citiesof Calexico and Mexicali.

As Mexicali saw a population explosion in the 1970s, and increased pollution levels because of an inadequate sewer infrastructure, there were various attempts in the 1980s and 1990s to address pollution of this river, as documented by the International Boundary and Water Commission of the U.S. Department of State.cite web | date = August 26, 1980 | url = | title = Minute 264: Recommendations for solution of the New River border sanitation problem | format = PDF | publisher = International Boundary and Water Commission | accessdate = February 16 | accessyear = 2007] cite web | date = April 15, 1987 | url = | title = Minute 274: Joint Project for Improvement of the Quality of the Waters of the New River | format = PDF | publisher = International Boundary and Water Commission | accessdate = February 16 | accessyear = 2007] cite web | date = October 30, 1992 | url = | title = Minute 288: Conceptual Plan for the Long Term Solution to the Border Sanitation Problem of the New River | format = PDF | publisher = International Boundary and Water Commission | accessdate = February 16 | accessyear = 2007]

Since the passing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the 1990s, industrial manufacturing also became an increasingly significant contributor to pollution. Mexico's relatively lax environmental regulations on manufacturing plants or maquiladoras has allowed these plants to use the New River as an industrial waste drainage system over the years. Mexicali has become a bustling border city with over one hundred maquiladoras.

Also, in the 1990s, a joint project was implemented to begin to improve Mexicali's wastewater infrastructure, but although the EPA paid for 55 percent of a $50 million addition to Mexicali's sewage treatment facilities and refurbishing of equipment, the improvements would not treat all the waste discharges to the river, and it had yet to tackle the residual pollution that was affecting Mexico and that had also been carried across the border through the Imperial Valley and deposited in the Salton Sea.

Environmental Justice

The stench of the New River near the boundary is often overpowering, particularly at night and during the summer in which temperatures rise up to 120°F. The New River is so heavily polluted that technicians usually wear two sets of gloves, aprons and other protective clothing when testing the water. Discarded tires, trash, dead animals and other wastes line the channel, foam blows into the streets of one of Calexico’s residential areas and toward its downtown area, mosquitoes and other pests thrive during the summer season, all of these factors only serve to elevate contagion risk.

Scores of immigrants are also exposed as they use the river to enter the U.S.; Those who succeed in crossing will rarely receive adequate medical attention or screening; and they will often find jobs in the agricultural or food service industries, carrying New River diseases to their various destinations in California and across the U.S. [ [ Calexico New River Committee (CNRC)] ] The pollution problem is expected to worsen if Mexicali’s population of about 1.3 million continues to expand without adequate infrastructure.

In 2006, through another binational project, Mexicali finished building a second water treatment facility to treat the 10 to 20 million gallons per day (mgd) of raw and partially treated sewage that were being discharged into the river. In May, 2005, the New River was designated as one of two environmental justice water quality pilot projects for the State of California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) to try to address the various pollution sources collaboratively between the various stakeholders.cite web | date = May 18, 2005 | url = | title = CalEPA Environmental Justice Action Plan, Pilot Project Summary on Water New River (Calexico)| format = PDF | publisher = State Water Resources Control Board SWRCB | accessdate = February 16 | accessyear = 2007]

Legislative Changes: SB 387

On July 25, 2005, Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 387, introduced by Senator Denise Moreno Ducheny (D-San Diego), which amended the state law to protect human health and the natural environment.cite web | date = July 27, 2005 | url = | title = CNRC Press Release - Governor Schwarzenegger Signs SB 387 | format = HTML | publisher = Calexico New River Committee | accessdate = February 16 | accessyear = 2007] cite web | date = July 27, 2005 | url = | title = New River cleanup set in motion with state bill | format = HTML | publisher = San Diego Union Tribune | accessdate = February 16 | accessyear = 2007] cite web | date = July 27, 2005 | url = | title = Gov. OKs New River cleanup | format = HTML | publisher = Imperial Valley Press | accessdate = February 16 | accessyear = 2007] Bill text:cite web | date = November 18 2005 | url = | title = Senate Bill 387 Senator Denise Moreno Ducheny | format = HTML/PDF | publisher = California State Senate | accessdate = February 16 | accessyear = 2007]

Senate Bill No. 387, Chapter 112

An act to add Section 7043.5 to the Water Code, relating to water.

Approved by Governor July 25, 2005. Filed with Secretary of State July 25, 2005. Passed the Senate July 7, 2005. Passed the Assembly June 27, 2005. Amended in Assembly June 22, 2005. Amended in Senate April 19, 2005. Amended in Senate March 29, 2005. Introduced by Senator Denise Moreno Ducheny. Coauthors: Assembly Members Bonnie Garcia, Lori Saldana, and Juan Vargaslegislative counsel’s digest

SB 387, Ducheny. New River.Existing law provides that specified law relating to the maintenance offlow in streams shall not prevent the use or enlargement of any naturalchannel for municipal purposes or for use in connection with any artificial system of drainage, irrigation, or flood control that does not cause the flow of water in the channel at the intake of the canal to be less than the quantity of water the owners and appropriators have the right to divert into the intake.

This bill, only as applied to the New River in Imperial County, woulddefine the phrase “use or enlargement of any natural channel for municipal purposes” to include sewage treatment and pollution prevention and the encasing and piping of the New River to protect human health and the natural environment.

The bill would make a finding and declaration of the Legislatureregarding the inapplicability of a general statute within the meaning of Section 16 of Article IV of the California Constitution.

"The people of the State of California do enact as follows:"

:SECTION 1. Section 7043.5 is added to the Water Code, to read:7043.5. Only as applied to the New River in Imperial County, as usedin this chapter, “use or enlargement of any natural channel for municipal purposes” includes, but is not limited to, sewage treatment and pollution prevention and the encasing and piping of the New River to protect human health and the natural environment.

:SECTION. 2. The Legislature finds and declares that, because of the unique circumstances applicable only to the New River in Imperial County, a statute of general applicability cannot be enacted within the meaning of subdivision (b) of Section 16 of Article IV of the California Constitution. Therefore, this special statute is necessary.


According to the Colorado River Regional Water Quality Control Board, once the new waste water treatment facility is fully operational, it will be handling the 10 to 20 mgd of raw sewage currently being discharged into the New River. While this should result in measurable improved water quality of the New River at the Border, particularly as it relates to pathogens and nutrients, the binational projects fail to address other problems that have significant adverse impacts on New River water quality at the Border. More specifically, the projects do not address the indiscriminate dumping of trash into the New River and its tributaries, the nutrients and pathogens from Mexicali's Zaragoza wastewater treatment lagoons, the untreated and partially treated discharges of industrial wastes, agricultural runoff from the Mexicali Valley, and urban and storm runoff from the municipality.

Moreover, Mexico intends to reclaim the effluent from the treatment plant on onsite green belts. This will result in a 20-mgd decrease in flow of the New River at the Border. This loss of flow, coupled with the projected 10 mgd decrease in flow in the River at the Border due to the [ InterGen] and Sempra Energy power plants reach capacity in Mexicali, estimated decrease in flow due to projects pursuant to the terms of the [ Quantification Settlement Agreement] ,and the water transfer between the Imperial Irrigation District and the [ San Diego County Water Authority] will have devastating water quality impacts on the Salton Sea.

Notes and references

ee also

*United States-Mexico border

External links

* [ New River - Most Polluted River in North America (video documentary)]
* [ "Troubled Waters", a PBS Documentary on the New River by California Connected, June 2, 2006]

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