Newsom's Proposed Budget Would Fund New River Project
New River | File Photo

Proposed State Budget Would Fund New River Project

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.

Outlook Uncertain

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.

“This new 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.

Garcia 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 these funds…”

Ballot Measure Proposed

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.

The funds million would support Salton Sea habitat and air-quality mitigation projects within the State’s Salton Sea Management Plan

“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.

This story is featured in the Jan 16, 2020 e-Edition.

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