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The New River and the Salton Sea

Map of Salton Sea with New River flowing up from Mexico

Map of Salton Sea with New River flowing up from Mexico

The New River has been called the most polluted river in North America, Thinking that most rivers in our Mexicali area flowed south; we were surprised to learn that the New River flowed north. From its headwaters, allegedly from Mexicali’s sewers, which “service” our house in Mexicali, the New River flows north from Mexicali, and winds its way up to California’s largest lake, the Salton Sea.

It is claimed that the New River carries “under-treated” human waste from Mexicali and harmful contaminants (nitrates, phosphates, selenium, etc) entering the river from agricultural runoff along its meandering 81-mile path through California’s Imperial Valley to the Salton Sea.

Mexicali, however, may not be the main offender, here. Agricultural contaminants from the Imperial Valley and California’s outright dumping of waste into the Salton Sea may well be even bigger problems. Add this to the diversion of fresh water flowing into the Salton Sea to San Diego and you have an enormous environmental problem. Just visit the once-beautiful Salton Sea and take a whiff to get the smell of the problem.

The Americans say they want to “keep working with Mexico to make sure the problem keeps getting addressed at the source,” claiming that Mexico classifies the New River as a drain rather than a river.

Naturally, the American side has “big plans” and “potential sources for funding” to clear up the problem. Yes, there are “strategic plans,” help from the guys who sunk New Orleans—the Army Corps of Engineers, the 2007 Water Resources Development Act, California funds from Proposition 84, potential “private funding,” and so forth.

Finally, there is the praise of California Assembly member Manuel Pérez, and his “willingness” to consult on any legislation required. Pérez states he wants “to make sure we improve public health, strengthen the local ecology and the local economy,” He also believes in World Peace, we think.

Bringing the whole thing down to our level to get a better understanding of the problem, Matthew, Jim and I decided to take a trip up the New River to chart its path.

To be well-informed, we checked the WikiPedia which said:
Scores of illegal immigrants are also exposed as they use the river to enter the U.S. Those who succeed in crossing will rarely receive adequate medical attention or screening; and they will often find jobs in the agricultural or food service industries, carrying New River diseases to their various destinations in California and across the U.S.

On second thought, not only was this an unhealthy and foolhardy decision, but the river is too small in some parts even for a rubber raft.
We wisely decided to travel up the New River riding high on Google Earth with Matthew as our pilot.

No, we didn’t start our journey from our kitchen or bathroom.

“Let’s just start where the river crosses the border into the states,”said Matthew.

“Good idea,” answered Jim. I nodded.

With Matthew at the controls we zoomed in on the New River at its border crossing. Matthew clicked on Google Earth to bring up a photo showing where New River flows into the US.

The New River border crossing, looking north to the U.S.

The New River border crossing, looking north to the U.S.

Up came the photo. “Why this ain’t no river,” said Jim, “‘it’s no more than a small stream.”

“Yes,” I added, “and there is a break in the border fence. It’s says this photo was uploaded on January 26, 2009 – which was after they put all the heavy fencing on the Mexicali border.”

“No need for a ladder there, anyone could wade on across, after taking some antibiotics of course” said Jim.

“OK, here we go,” said Matthew following the New River north on Google Earth.

About a mile from the border on the American side, “At 297.24 degrees,” said Matthew, the New River passed right by a large sewage plant.

“Golly,” said Jim, “that looks like a huge sewage plant. Betcha that’s were a lot of the pollution is coming from that they are blaming on Mexicali.”

“Yeah, and see how the New River widens there?” observed Matthew.

The New River flowed north and took a turn west as it went by a subdivision in Calexico. Then, it passed under the much larger All American Canal.

“Passed under?” asked Jim.

The All American Canal crossing over the New River

The New River passing under the All American Canal

Matthew zoomed down and we could see that pipes carried the All American Canal over the New River.

“Well, I’ll be darned,” whispered Jim. “Those there pipes look new. Wonder when they were built. Maybe the New River used to flow into the All American Canal.”

“And right through the heart of Calexico,” I added.

Matthew continued following the New River. It crossed under a bridge on Highway 98, and, going north passed under another bridge on Highway 8, which was “Just 8.4 miles due east of El Centro,” said Matthew.

“Ride’em cowboy!” said Jim, getting in the mood.

“Roger,” answered Matthew.

The New River continued a bit northeast, “Just kissing the west side of Brawley,” said Matthew.

“Brawley-Wow, some kiss!” exclaimed Jim.

After Brawley, the New River went north through Imperial Valley’s green farmlands, and then veered in a westerly direction heading to its final destination—the Salton Sea.

Where the New River flows into the Salton Sea (aerial view)

Where the New River flows into the Salton Sea (aerial view)

Matthew pulled up a picture of the New River entering the Salton Sea and said, “To me the New River at this end looks quite a bit larger than when it left Mexicali.”

Jim took a look and said, “Seems like it. Guess Mexicali ain’t doing all the polluting, after all.”

3 comments to The New River and the Salton Sea

  • Midwest J

    Awesome story coming from people that still have raw sewage running down your streets. Good stuff.

  • Andrea H

    Those poor people living there are just breathing in all this filthy air. Their lungs need to be checked up!
    A great post Maryann! I agree with the other reader, maybe a class-action here? I am not a lawyer, but I sure won’t be happy to know the truth about the Salton sea being a toxic dump!
    Can’t help but think about the real estate prices in Brawley being affected by all of this either???
    Andrea H

  • Big Ben

    A great scoop guys!
    Had NO IDEA of the level of enviromental pollution being dumped in the Salton Sea.
    I hope the authorities in charge do something about this. I smell class-action here?

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