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March 14, 2023
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March 15, 2023

International Day of Action for Rivers: New River

Author: Rachel Noriega

International Day of Action for Rivers is observed on March 14 every year. This day was created to help celebrate and create awareness about the importance of rivers across the world. So, let’s talk about a specific river that needs some action.

The New River is in the Sonoran Desert and runs through the agricultural center along the Mexico/California border. The river was created in 1905 when the Colorado River was thrown off course due to flooding during canal construction, which created two new rivers the Alamo and the New River.

The New River begins its journey 15 miles south of Mexicali, Mexico where raw sewage enters the water system due to deteriorating infrastructure. It then flows north past the border and enters the Imperial Valley in California where agricultural contaminants enter the river before reaching the Salton Sea. Problems with the New River date back to the 1940s and there have been some improvements, but there is still a ways to go.

The river, in its current condition, poses threats to human health and wildlife, which further complicates issues surrounding the Salton Sea. The Salton Sea is currently drying, leaving behind playa.  The contaminants in the New River are not only being added to the playa, but they also increase the salinity of the Salton Sea which can increase the drying rate. Imperial County does not meet U.S. air quality standards and with the drying of the Sea, it will only get worse. The salinity of the Salton Sea no longer supports fish, and fish-eating birds that relied on the Sea are no longer being seen in their historic numbers. The New River contaminants not only affect those people and animals along the river, but also those around the Salton Sea.

Currently, the New River Improvement Project has been finalized, but the funding requirements have not been met. This project is a California undertaking. The proposed solutions include installing trash screens, bypassing potions of the river near Mexicali, and pumping treated wastewater back into the river.  Agencies invested in the project include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the California EPA, the Colorado River Regional Water Quality Control Board, the City of Calexico, and Imperial County. In June 2018, California voters approved Proposition 68 awarding $10 million for the project bringing the total funding to $28 million, which is close to the estimated $32 million needed to implement the project. In 2022 there was a single bid for the project at $41.7 million which was rejected. Bidding was re-opened, and the California Department of Water Resources recommended a potentially cheaper material so there is renewed hope for the New River.

Your actions to help rivers can be as simple as passing information along including sharing this blog with your social networks. The more we talk about our rivers the more likely action will be taken to support these vital waterways. Learn more about the New River, or rivers near you.