SAN DIEGO (CN) — The State Water Resources Control Board will spend $34 million for six projects to improve the water quality of the New River and the Tijuana River along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The New River starts south of the city of Mexicali, and runs through Calexico on the U.S. side of the border and through Imperial County to the Salton Sea. The Tijuana River runs from Baja California into San Diego.
Both rivers are heavily polluted by sewage, trash, industrial and agricultural waste, and other sediment and pollutants.
“The water quality in our border watersheds have been degraded by sewage, trash and other pollutants for decades, posing a constant threat to the health of people, wildlife, and our economies,” Joaquin Esquivel, chair of the state water board, said in a statement Thursday. “This funding comes at a critical time, as these challenges are exacerbated by extreme weather patterns in our changed climate. These projects will help improve water quality for our border communities while we continue our collaboration at the local, state and federal levels, and with our Mexican partners, to protect our water resources.”
Those projects include $18 million for the city of Calexico and the California Department of Water Resources to install a trash screen, a system to pump water back into the river after it’s been treated at the Calexico Wastewater Treatment Plant, and other infrastructure to prevent against erosion on the New River.
Another project will be headed by San Diego County, which will use more than $4 million to build a sediment and trash control basin and do dredging to remove sediment, trash and debris at the Tijuana River Pilot Channel and Smuggler’s Gulch, and area the announcement by the board describes as a place where pollutants on the Tijuana River accumulate, and through a series of gates, is used to divert trash from the river from reaching the Pacific Ocean.
San Diego County will receive $2 million to remediate an illegal dumping ground that has altered the course of the Tijuana River and to restore the floodplain and habitat around the property.
The Rural Community Assistance Corporation will receive $4.7 million to build a floating trash boom system that can be used during the stormy season in the concrete-lined portion of the Tijuana River Channel.
Five of the projects are on the U.S. side of the border, and the sixth project will happen in Mexicali and work toward improving the water quality of the New River by cleaning up trash from the river, replanting native vegetation along the river, and restoring its wetlands.
“This is a great opportunity to show that it can be done, that the wetlands in Mexicali can be changed and improved,” said Edith Santiago, the associate director of the Colorado River Delta Program at the Sonoran Institute.
The Sonoran Institute will receive $4 million for what’s called the Fluyle Project.
Santiago said she hopes that with the money they hope they can also work on starting up environmental education workshops to teach people and local businesses about the river, recycling and other forms of conservation, and to get the local community’s ideas about what they would like to see the future of the river look like.
Upstream, the board is also giving $167,000 to Imperial County to evaluate the effectiveness of building a new wastewater treatment plant in the county to treat river water from the New River.
Upon hearing the amount of money the board was giving to the county, Ryan Kelley, the District 4 representative on the Imperial County Board of Supervisors, laughed out loud.
“I don’t think you can do a study with that kind of money,” Kelley said.
Kelley said that the fecal coliform bacteria count in the New River is 30 times the amount that the Safe Drinking Water Act allows, and that the river’s pollution problem has been known about and ignored for years.
“They’ve deemed it necessary to clean the water in San Diego but not here,” Kelley said. “How can you have the dirtiest river in North America continuing to flow across the border into the United States?”
Kelley added it’s nice to see some funding going toward possibly beginning to clean the river, but the amount the board allotted is not enough.
“I’m happy to see that there’s some movement in that direction,” Kelley said. “But I hope it doesn't end up on a shelf and I hope that as a result of this it actually materializes into action on the river.”
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