Our Voice: Garcia bill a boost to New River, Salton Sea
The Desert Sun Editorial Board 5:31 p.m. PST March 3, 2015
Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia is pressing the fight to clean up the New River.
The Coachella Democrat’s Assembly Bill 965 would require state officials to do a better job of funding and implementing the New River Improvement Project strategic plan, a 2011 document on cleanup possibilities for the waterway long viewed as among the most polluted in America.
Since at least the mid-1900s, the New River has been a repository of raw or under-treated sewage, fecal coliform bacteria, heavy metals like selenium and arsenic, and pesticides such as DDT and PCBs. Bacteria that can cause tuberculosis, encephalitis and typhoid thrive in the flow.
Much of the contamination begins south of the border in Mexicali, which has long seen the river as a “drain” but in recent years has taken some cleanup actions in the form of new sewage treatment plants — built in large part with funding from the U.S. government — and policing of illegal dumping into the waterway.
On this side of the border, agricultural chemical runoff from Imperial Valley fields runs into the river, which eventually flows into the Salton Sea. Imperial Valley farmers have also voluntarily cut back on contaminants that flow into the stream from their fields.
Other work, such as the creation of wetlands to further naturally filter the flow once it enters the United States, have helped clean the waterway.
Garcia’s bill will enhance these efforts by directing the California-Mexico Border Relations Council to work with other agencies to fund and implement the strategic plan. It also will make clear that projects related to the New River strategic plan — such as a green parkway along the channel in Calexico — qualify for funding from California's Urban Streams Restoration Board.
“This bill would allow this border region area, as well as other border region areas, to qualify for funding sources that already exist, with the specific intention of addressing polluted streams and urban centers,” Garcia told The Desert Sun’s Sammy Roth.
Garcia’s effort builds on that of V. Manuel Pérez, another Coachella Democrat who was Garcia’s predecessor in the Assembly. Pérez wrote legislation that led to the New River strategic cleanup plan. Garcia’s relationships with Pérez, Rep. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, and Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, as a member of each of their teams, make him well-qualified to lead this effort.
The push to clean up the New River should also be seen as a boost to efforts to restore the Salton Sea. Further cuts in the toxins flowing into the sea can only help in mitigating the looming threat its decline poses to the health of the region as well as helping preserve it as key wildlife habitat.