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The New River is shown as it flows north from Mexico into Calexico at the U.S. border. | KENNY ROBERTSON PHOTO

New River Restoration Bill Introduced in Congress by Vargas, Ruiz

A pair of California Congressmen, including Imperial County’s representative, introduced a bill meant to compel the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the long-polluted New River.

The Imperial Valley’s Congressman, U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas, D-Chula Vista, and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert, have co-sponsored the California New River Restoration Act, which was introduced on Monday, Jan. 25.

U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas, D-Chula Vista. | COURTESY PHOTO

The legislation would require the EPA to establish the California New River Restoration Program, according to a press release from Vargas’ office.

The severely polluted New River is rife with discharges of waste from domestic, agricultural, and industrial sources in Mexico and the Imperial Valley. While progress has been made on both sides of the border to improve water quality through the past few decades, there continues to be raw sewage spillage into the New River.

“We need to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of existing conservation efforts by facilitating the coordination of federal and non-federal resources,” Vargas stated in his release. “The California New River Restoration Program creates opportunities for measurable progress in restoring the New River in Imperial Valley.”

Once enacted, the program would provide grants and technical assistance for the planning and implementation of conservation strategies for the New River and the surrounding region, according to the release. 

U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert | COURTESY PHOTO

The bill also requires the EPA to consult with stakeholders, on both sides of the border, during the creation and implementation of such programs. Additionally, the EPA must provide grants and technical assistance for coordinating restoration and protection activities.  

Recently, the state has stepped up and provided tens of millions of dollars in funding that is being used on projects now in the late developmental stages by the city of Calexico and its partners. However, meaningful contributions from the federal government have been lacking, and Imperial County officials have been critical of what they have described as an absence of federal responsibility. 

Movement toward fixing the problem of the New River sounds good, said Imperial County Board of Supervisors Chairman Michael Kelley, but there must be more than studies done.

Imperial County Board of Supervisors Chairman Michael Kelley | COURTESY PHOTO

“Anything that anybody can do in assisting Imperial County with the New River is accepted with open arms, but we need to do something about the quality of water that’s entering the New River,” Kelley said. 

He added he hopes grant funding becomes available for a wastewater treatment facility to help clean the drainage water that makes up the New River.

The international waterway is considered a drain in Mexicali but is known as a river once it enters the United States.

Kelley said he hopes that there are more than studies appropriated in any funding with the legislation, adding that the issue, like the Salton Sea, too, has been “studied to death.”

“I hope it becomes the beginning of building blocks so funding can become available for those projects,” he added.

The Salton Sea was also on the mind of the other proponent of the legislation, Dr. Ruiz.

“The New River is one of the most polluted in the country, carrying toxins and chemicals from our southern border into the Salton Sea, jeopardizing the health of residents who live and work near the river,” Ruiz stated. “I’m proud to work with Rep. Vargas to bring much needed funding to restore the New River and improve health outcomes for my constituents and residents of Imperial and Riverside Counties.”

The legislation was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on Jan. 25 for consideration of provisions to the bill.

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