Toxic contamination of the New River continues

Imperial Valley

Toxic contamination of the New River continues

Posted: Updated:

CALEXICO, CALIF. (13 On Your Side) - It's filthy. It's toxic. And it's a breeding ground for deadly diseases.

Yet, this contaminated sewage water, also known as the New River, flows right into the Salton Sea - exposing its dangerous hazards to Imperial Valley and beyond.

The New River is one of the most toxic rivers in North America. And the contamination that flows through it does not stop at the waters edge.

Illegal immigrants are willing to risk their lives to cross it. And U.S. Border Patrol agents cannot - and will not - take a chance trying to stop them.

Water that should be fit for people and crops is instead an environmental dumping ground. Just ask Miguel Figueroa who heads up the Calexico New River Committee.

"Domestic, agricultural, and industrial waste. Most of it coming from the Mexicali side," says Figueroa.

In a 1999 letter to California senator Dianne Feinstein from the U.S. General Accounting Office states at least 260 industrial facilities dump untreated and under treated sewage into Mexicali's system - which ultimately flows into the New River.  

According to investigations done by the state's Water Quality Control Board, the dumping of raw sewage causes it to contain bacteria that can cause polio, typhoid, cholera and tuberculosis.

15,000,000 gallons of untreated domestic wastewater had been discharged daily into the New River.

"The state of Baja California treats the New River as a drain. Where, here, we treat it as a river," says Miguel Figueroa.

And that's not the only thing the U.S. and Mexico are sharply divided on.

"There was a settlement. A class-action suit that was initiated by the agents and the union that represent them for this New River in Calexico and the Tijuana River over there in Tijuana/SanYsidro/San Diego area," says agent Lombardo Amaya.

Amaya is the union president for U.S. Border Patrol agents in the El Centro sector.

The end result of that lawsuit? The feds wound up shelling out $15,000,000 to agents who complained about the dangers of wading into the contaminated New River in an effort to stop illegal immigrants from crossing it.

Even still, some federal employees are still forced to work around the river every day.

"We have glass over here, we have rocks, we have nasty things over here. We have bodies…animal bodies floating over here. Once in a while we have a human body coming over from Mexico," says Amaya, "We should be getting hazard duty pay. But the agency cannot obligate a border patrol agent to risk his health."

Border Patrol agents and illegal immigrants are not the only ones at risk.

"You have neighborhoods around the New River. And the families, the kids that live in this neighborhood are exposed to the same dust, to the same chemicals, to the same fumes, to the same diseases," Amaya points out.

In 2006, Las Arenitas - a partially U.S. funded waste water plant helped minimize toxic sewage going into the New River.

Still, it is not enough to clean sewage for the 1,000,000 and growing population of Mexicali.

So Figueroa and his committee, along with the city of Calexico, are working on a state-approved $4,000,000 park that is designed to reduce the threat to the community.

"For decades now, the people here in Calexico have been asking for a green area, a breathing area, a recreation area for the local youth," says Figueroa, "also, an amenity for the people living on the west side of Calexico."

Today, the Committee is working on a second project to restore the river itself.

"The strategic plan calls for a conveyance and disinfectant facility. And that's just a fancy word for making sure that the water that crosses - once the parkway is complete - is clean," says Figueroa.

Until then, these quiet waters pose a clear and present danger to the people who live close to it - regardless as to which side of the better they come from.

The U.S. has offered to loan money to the Mexican government to build more water plant facilities - but Mexico has turned them down because it's government has other priorities.

  • Most Popular StoriesMost Popular StoriesMore>>

  • Arizona, NH to get federal education funding

    Arizona, NH to get federal education funding

    Efforts to turn around Arizona's persistently low-performing schools will be getting a $10 million boost from the federal government.More >>
    Efforts to turn around Arizona's persistently low-performing schools will be getting a $10 million boost from the federal government.More >>
  • Minnesota man kills intruders; admits he was waiting for them.

    Minnesota man kills intruders; admits he was waiting for them.

    LITTLE FALLS, Minn. -Jurors heard an audio recording Tuesday of the moments when two teenagers were fatally shot by a Minnesota homeowner who says he feared for his life after several previous break-ins. Byron Smith, 65, of Little Falls, is charged with first-degree premeditated murder inthe slayings of 17-year-old Nick Brady and 18-year-old Haile Kiferon Thanksgiving Day 2012. The shooting stunned the small city and stirred debate about how far people can go in defending their homes. Smith t...More >>
    LITTLE FALLS, Minn. -Jurors heard an audio recording Tuesday of the moments when two teenagers were fatally shot by a Minnesota homeowner who says he feared for his life after several previous break-ins. Byron Smith, 65, of Little Falls, is charged with first-degree premeditated murder inthe slayings of 17-year-old Nick Brady and 18-year-old Haile Kiferon Thanksgiving Day 2012. The shooting stunned the small city and stirred debate about how far people can go in defending their homes. Smith t...More >>
  • National

    Obama warns of delay in social sec. checks and veteran's benefits

    Obama warns of delay in social sec. checks and veteran's benefits

    Web Producer: Lucy Valencia, Assignment Desk Editor WASHINGTON (AP) -- Declaring "we are not a deadbeat nation," President Obama warned on Monday that Social Security checks and veterans' benefits willMore >>
    Declaring "we are not a deadbeat nation," President Obama warned on Monday that Social Security checks and veterans' benefits will be delayed if congressional Republicans fail to increase the government's borrowing authority in a looming showdown over the nation's debt and spending.More >>
  • Ventura County tree removal sparks outrage

    Ventura County tree removal sparks outrage

    Thousand Oaks officials say they will review city planning procedures after hearing from residents who are outraged over the removal of a slew of trees at a shopping center.More >>
    Thousand Oaks officials say they will review city planning procedures after hearing from residents who are outraged over the removal of a slew of trees at a shopping center.More >>
  • House strips school voucher bill

    House strips school voucher bill

    The Arizona House has given initial approval to a bill that would help expedite the approval process for parents of some students in the state school voucher program.More >>
    The Arizona House has given initial approval to a bill that would help expedite the approval process for parents of some students in the state school voucher program.More >>
  • California Condor Chick Makes 3 This Season

    California Condor Chick Makes 3 This Season

    GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, AZ – The California condor population has another chick to count among its very small, but growing numbers. Peregrine Fund biologists confirm seeing one in a nest caveMore >>
       GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, AZ – The California condor population has another chick to count among its very small, but growing numbers. That brings the number of wild condor chicks produced by the Arizona-Utah flock this season to three.More >>
  • Yuma

    Police offer advice for people in a robbery situation

    Police offer advice for people in a robbery situation

    YUMA, AZ (13 On Your Side) - Over the past month there have been a string of convenience store robberies around town. Most recently, one suspect - who police say - robbed three Circle Ks within 48 hours.More >>
    Over the past month there have been a string of convenience store robberies around town.More >>
  • DEA wants you to dispose of unused medications

    DEA wants you to dispose of unused medications

    The Yuma Police Department has teamed up with the Drug Enforcement Agency in an effort to dispose of your unused prescriptions. The DEA is accepting all expired and unused medications which will in turn be placed in and incinerator and destroyed; along with the drugs any labels will also be destroyed. The event is this Saturday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. in the Yuma Police Department parking lot off of 16th Street and 1st Avenue. There's no cost to drop off your medications, all they ask is th...More >>
    The Yuma Police Department has teamed up with the Drug Enforcement Agency in an effort to dispose of your unused prescriptions. The DEA is accepting all expired and unused medications which will in turn be placed in and incinerator and destroyed; along with the drugs any labels will also be destroyed. The event is this Saturday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. in the Yuma Police Department parking lot off of 16th Street and 1st Avenue. There's no cost to drop off your medications, all they ask is th...More >>