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Current Status of New River Improvement Efforts Highlighted in Public Meeting

By: Mario Conde, Reporter

As projects that are intended to improve the New River in Calexico, it’s progress remains to gain momentum thanks to the collaboration of municipal, county, and state agencies.

A public meeting was held at the Calexico Women’s Improvement Club on July 11 to hear an update on mitigation projects going on at the river.

The road -a difficult and a complex one-  started more than a decade ago thanks to the outcry of the neighbors impacted by the New River and the initial public officials who heard the demand and got the ball rolling at a state level. The impact in the quality of life of the residents living near the New River was affected as well as their health prompted them to demand their elected officials to act. For many residents, it seemed like a lost cause or believed that there will be solution ever but things started to take a turn when government agencies and environmental justice groups came together.

The New River Improvement Project was created by Assembly Bill 1079, in 2009 by former Assemblyman Manuel Perez. AB 1079 also required the California-Mexico Border Relations Council to develop a strategic plan to guide its implementation.

The New River is one of the most polluted rivers in the nation. Trash and waste from municipal, agricultural, and industrial sources cause heavy pollution throughout the New River, which runs from Mexico through the city of Calexico to the Salton Sea. It poses serious threats to public health and hinders local economic development.

The present-day channel of the river was created in 1905-1907 when the Colorado River washed out diversionary works, and the entire Colorado River flows cursed into the Salton Sea basin creating the New and Alamo River channels, and the present Salton Sea, Thus the name “New River.”

The New River Improvement Project addresses these problems by recommending the installment of a trash screen just downstream from the Mexico border and a pump-back water system that replaces polluted water in the river channel with treated wastewater from the city’s treatment plant, enabling New River water to be piped for water quality remediation through wetlands and aeration structures north of ‪Calexico.

The New River Improvement Project also envisions a pedestrian and bicycle parkway that would run along the river in the Calexico area and supports the Calexico New River Parkway development. Calexico Assistant City Manager Miguel Figueroa said the construction of the parkway will finalize in 2020.

“Part of the reason residents living near the New River joined the New River Strategic Plan was because they made it clear that they wanted to replace the contaminated land with a green area park with amenities their families and children could use,” Figueroa said.

The design of the 1.5-mile parkway project was completed and approved by the California Department of Transportation and the California Natural Resources Agency in 2017. Portions of the funding have been allocated, but it could only be used by obtaining matching funds and completing design, planning and environmental processes.

Former Congressman Bob Filner helped appropriate $3.2 million from Caltrans in the early 2000s, but it required a 20-percent city match. When Assembly Bill 1079 was adopted in 2009, it provided that $800,000 in matching fees for the city from the state Natural Resources Agency, giving them access to the remaining $3.2 million from Caltrans.

The plan for this park is to have a bikeway connect the west side where there are 300 houses that are affected by the river to the Gran Plaza Outlets. The parkway is to be constructed within portions of the New River’s flood plain that passes through the city over a distance of three miles extending from the international border to State Highway 98. Future amenities according to the New River Project Strategic Plan include soccer and baseball fields, as well as public restrooms.

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