Gov. Gavin Newsom’s first
proposed budget as governor came with a healthy dose of good news for dealing
with the unhealthy conditions at the New River and the Salton Sea.
The document revealed in
early January includes the final piece of funding needed to build out the
long-planned infrastructure improvements on the New River south of the Second
Street bridge in Calexico.
Newsom’s proposed budget
includes $18 million in the general fund specifically for the Calexico New
River Improvement Project, Assistant
Calexico City Manager Miguel Figueroa confirmed Jan. 14.
It is the final funding
needed to pay for the three-piece set of infrastructure improvements. Those include
a trash-screen where the river enters the United States from Mexico, a tertiary
pump-back system to tie into the city wastewater treatment plant to provide
some “freshwater” near the border, and the encasement of a portion of the
fetid, untreated portion of the river.
While the budget must
still go through negotiation with the Legislature, Figueroa said it is cause
for optimism to remedy a long-vexing scourge.
“It continues to show
that the work of the community and the agencies in Imperial County that have
been advocating … for the dollars to mitigate New River problems has paid off
in the sense that the message is getting out” of the unhealthy conditions created
by the river, Figueroa added.
“Whatever’s going to
happen in Calexico is going to determine in the improvement of the New River
throughout Imperial County,” Figueroa added.
The river, which originates in Mexico, is rife with known pathogens and
carcinogens that flow across the international border at Calexico and north
through Imperial County before emptying into the Salton Sea. The river is often
subject to raw sewage discharges from a pair of aging Mexicali-based water-treatment
plants often in disrepair.
If the $18 million general-fund allocation for the river makes the final
budget through upcoming revisions between Newsom and the Legislature, there is still
no timeline on when the funds would become available for Calexico’s project. If
the funding remains intact, it will next have to be tied to a distributing
agency or state department, Figueroa said.
Meanwhile, state and county officials celebrated last week’s announcement
that in addition to the money for the river, the governor’s budget also provides
billions for a climate resiliency bond. Newsom has said he hopes to get it placed
on the November 2020 ballot. If passed by the voters, it would provide more
than $200 million for Salton Sea restoration and e permanent cleanup solutions.
High praise for those efforts flowed from Assembly
Member Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, in a Jan. 10 statement. He represents
Imperial Valley parts of Coachella Valley in Riverside County.
budget marks unprecedented investments and momentous headway for the Salton
Sea, New River, and climate resiliency. Importantly, this budget reflects that
our concerted advocacy efforts over the years are being recognized by this
administration,” Garcia stated.
stated the proposed New River budget allocation “…along with our Proposition 68
money (2018 voter-approved water bond) will bring our total to $28 million for
the New River Improvement Project…We remain in active coordination with the
California Secretary for Environmental Protection to ensure that we can deliver
The cornerstone of Newsom’s budget proposal is a
$4.75 billion climate-resilience bond the governor proposes be placed on the
November 2020 ballot. Although Newsom’s office announced his budget would
be allocating $220 million for the Salton Sea as if it would be coming from the
general fund, it was later clarified the monies would be accessible if the
larger climate bond was passed.
“I am encouraged to learn about the Governor’s budget proposal that
includes funding to address these public and environmental health threats that
we are faced with on a daily basis with the New River and Salton Sea,” County
Board Chairman Luis Plancarte stated Jan. 10.
Meanwhile, work continues on the various pieces of the Calexico New
River Parkway Project that will eventually tie into the infrastructure projects
south of the Second Street bridge. All comprise elements of the Calexico New
River Improvement Project.
The parkway project, which is being carried out in three phases, will
likely see construction start in the fall, Figueroa said. Construction bids for
the initial phase, which was due to start in mid- to fall 2019, came back about
$600,000 over the $2 million budget.
The Calexico City Council then rejected the bids and city officials are
still working on revising the project so that it will be within the budget.
The call for bids would likely be re-advertised in February, with bids
due and contracts awarded during the summer, Figueroa explained. Work in that
phase includes building the walking trails-biking paths and other related
infrastructure, such as lighting and electrical work for the parkway area.
The other two phases have yet to get started. One phase is to build out
the technical infrastructure that would tie the parkway project to the
improvements south of the Second Street bridge (trash-screen, pump-back system
and encasement). The other would be aesthetically-oriented, such as landscaping
and other amenities including park benches.
A portion of the parkway
project still needs to be funded, Figueroa added, although he was not
immediately clear on how much remains. It could be about $10 million more
needed based on his initial understanding that $28 million in new money was
coming to the New River projects via the proposed budget, he said.
The issue was made a bit
confusing by the afternoon of Jan. 14 due to Garcia’s office clarifying that
$10 million comes from an earlier funding source finally being appropriated and
not part of new general fund monies, which would be $18 million.