Officials begin process of cleaning up New River
CALEXICO — Local, regional and state officials took the first step toward the long rehabilitation of the New River on Monday.
The city of Calexico, the county of Imperial and the Imperial Irrigation District recently approved a memorandum of understanding between the three for the potential operation and maintenance costs related to New River Projects after they’re completed.
Although the project has yet to get underway, the California Environmental Protection Agency through the State Water Resources Control Board asked the three local entities to commit to take responsibility for the operation and maintenance costs of the project after it gets done.
The request made by the Cal EPA was for one of the local agencies to claim ownership of the facility after its completion, a commitment none of the agencies wanted to barely solely, so instead entered collectively.
All three agencies agreed to provide up to $50,000 per year, each, for operations and maintenance costs of the project each, starting at the completion of the project.
“We are gratified that another important milestone is met in our incessant effort to improve public health and the social and environmental ambiance in our community,” said Calexico Mayor Maritza Hurtado.
By executing the agreement at the local level, the state will move forward with awarding a $1.4 million contract to an engineering firm to design and execute an environmental review for the New River Improvement Project - construction is expected to cost approximately $20 million.
Chair of the Colorado River Basin Regional Water Quality Control Board Nancy Wright said the contract for the first phase should be awarded in the next couple of months, then it will take approximately a year to finalize permitting, environmental reviews and design of the project for which construction could first get underway at the end of 2018 or early 2019.
“We will be doing everything we can in our power to make sure this project is expedited,” Wright said during Monday’s ceremony.
The New River Improvement Project includes a trash-collecting screen near the point where the river crosses the international border, an underground segment of the New River in which water will flow through a conveyance pipe from a point near the international border up north to Highway 98.
“We are gratified that another important milestone is met in our incessant effort to improve public health and the social and environmental ambiance in our community.” Maritza Hurtado, Calexico mayor
The project also includes a parkway along the New River in the vicinity of the Calexico Wastewater Treatment Plant, water from the plant will be used to fill the riverbed in order to have clean water along the parkway.
“It’s a pleasure to be here today … the people of Calexico have waited decades, not years but decades for this,” said District 1 Supervisor John Renison who represents Calexico. “We’re elated, we’re happy and personally I’m overjoyed, but our work is not done it’s only the beginning.
The next step in the process is to begin seeking funding options for the full project once design and engineering are completed.
Gov. Jerry Brown previously signed Senate Bill 5, co-authored by Senate president pro tem Kevin de Leon and Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia. SB 5 is a $4.1 billion park bond that has earmarked $10 million for the New River and $190 million for the Salton Sea. The park bond will go before the state voter as part of the June 2018 ballot.
State officials are still trying to identify other potential funds to complete the project.
California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Matthew Rodriquez, who was in attendance on Monday, recalled when he first visited the river after being appointed to his current role that local officials warned him to avoid any contact with the New River.
“We can’t have that in California, that’s not an acceptable situation,” Rodriquez said. “This is the first step but is a very important step and I will urge the community to continue to work together and continue to present a united front.”
An empty plastic gallon lays on the chemically polluted bank of the New River in Calexico.
Calexico Mayor Maritza Hurtado holds up the signed MOU to the public during the signing ceremony at Nosotros Park in Calexico. Director of Community and Economic Development Miguel Figueroa (left) for Calexico, to Hurtado’s left President of the IID Board of Directors Bruce Kuhn and Chairman of the County Board of Supervisors Michael Kelley. EDWIN DELGADO PHOTO
IMPERIAL VALLEY PRESS FILE PHOTO