For decades, the New River has flowed north across the U.S.-Mexico border carrying toxic pollution and the stench of sewage. Now lawmakers in Washington and Sacramento are pursuing legislation and funding to combat the problems. “I feel very optimistic that we’re going to be able to get some things done on the New River issue,” said Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia.
The Río Nuevo flows north from Mexico into the United States, passing through a gap in the border fence. The murky green water reeks of sewage and carries soapsuds, pieces of trash and a load of toxic chemicals from Mexicali, a city filled with factories that manufacture products from electronics to auto parts.
The river is so foul that rumors swirl about two-headed turtles and three-eyed fish. If you fall in, locals joke, you might sprout a third arm. So go the stories about the New River, whose putrid green water runs like a primordial stew from Mexico’s sprawling city of Mexicali through California’s Imperial Valley.
California’s little-known New River has been called one of North America’s most polluted. A closer look reveals the New River is full of ironic twists: its pollution has long defied cleanup, yet even in its degraded condition, the river is important to the border economies of Mexicali and the Imperial Valley and a lifeline that helps sustain the fragile Salton Sea ecosystem. Now, after decades of inertia on its pollution problems, the New River has emerged as an important test of binational cooperation on border water issues. These issues were profiled in the 2004 PBS documentary Two Sides of a River.