For decades Calexico residents living near the highly polluted New River have heard promises of clean up of the fetid water and improvement of the surrounding landscape. Still, much remains unchanged—polluted water, often raw sewage—flows in from Mexico and the river remains a smelly eyesore.
The city’s New River Improvement Project now underway offers some hope with a bike path/parkway and athletic fields.
Now, U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas (D-51st District), whose district includes Imperial County, has stepped in by introducing a bill in the House of Representatives to establish the California New River Restoration program. It would build upon conservation and restoration efforts for the New River in both California and Mexico.
“New River projects have shown great progress, however there is still work to be done,” Vargas stated in a press release. “My bill will advance that progress by providing the necessary federal support to conservation efforts that aid in restoring the New River.”
Still, residents remain incredulous and despite the Vargas’ Democratic Party now in control of the House the bill’s future is uncertain due to a Republican Senate and president.
“I’m very disappointed about the lack of work done to restore the New River. We elect new people and we see studies but nothing changes,” said Ema Silva, a resident of the west side of Calexico and long-time New River restoration activist.
Residents have seen enough studies and laws introduced and now want actual work to begin, Silva added, explaining they are raising their voices demanding solutions to what they view as a serious health hazard..
“We also need to know what will be done to the plants and contaminated dirt around the river that are also the hazard to the area,” Silva said.
Vargas reported his bill would create the venues for further progress for cleanup and restoration.
Imperial County’s eye on federal legislation is Intergovernmental Relations Director Rebecca Terrazas-Baxter. In e-mail she explained the bill would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to create a new federal program called the California New River Restoration Program no later than 180 days after the bill’s passage.
The objective would be to help implement and coordinate federal funding for conservation and restoration projects that are supported by the California-Mexico Border Relations Council, in consultation with stakeholders, such as Imperial County.
“The County of Imperial applauds Congressman Vargas' commitment to bring national attention and resources to the significant water pollution problems in the New River,” Terrazas-Baxter stated.
She added, “The County also commends the Congressman's efforts to engage the federal government in this issue that has plagued the residents of Imperial County, especially Calexico, for so long. It is the County's hope that the odds of the bill advancing have increased this year, but as is evident in recent activity in Washington, D.C., it is highly unpredictable.”
With Congress and President Donald J. Trump locked in a tussle over the 2018-19 federal budget that was supposed to be finalized by Oct. 1, 2018, the outlook for new legislation is uncertain.