Imperial Valley Press, February 18, 2001
The New River is a mess. It has been for ... well, since before we can remember.
Does that sound familiar? Are we saying anything new? We didn't think so, and therein lies the problem.
United States presidents have come and gone. Mexican presidents have come and gone. Still, the New River is dirtier than ever. Little meaningful progress has been accomplished in getting North America's most toxic waterway cleaned.
In recent days, however, movement to that effect has been fought from two fronts.
In one show of force, Sen. Dianne Feinstein let newly installed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Whitman know in a letter the administration should address deficiencies in the effort to solve the New River problem. In a press release, Feinstein stated Congress has spent some $25 million to restore the river and Mexico, $20 million. We cannot afford to continue to waste our tax dollars on efforts that get us nowhere. If we are to spend another dime on the New River, the effort must succeed.
If there are deficiencies, now is the time to take note of them and address the problem. While we are pleased to see Feinstein's interest in the New River, we urge her to take note of one issue she has not addressed. With the help of the United States, Mexico is building a wastewater facility that would clean the river. If the facility works, Mexico could decide to reroute the much-cleaner river and use it for agricultural purposes. That could hurt us in the Imperial Valley by reducing the flow of water to the Salton Sea, impacting efforts to reduce its salt content.
In other words there are a lot of issues to consider when dealing with the New River. We just hope Feinstein and the new Bush administration are aware of all such issues.
While Feinstein represents one front, a more localized fight to clean the river is gaining steam. That effort, which is being waged by local officials, environmentalists and others, is meant to create an international partnership between Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox, with the end result being the piping of the New River from the border to 3.5 miles north.
Led by the Calexico New River Committee, the piping effort has the backing of environmental powerhouses The Sierra Club and San Francisco's Greenlining Institute, which boasts a coalition of 40 Latino and minority organizations like the Mexican American Political Association, the National Black Chambers of Commerce and Asian Business Association.
Greenlining Institute officials have already set up meetings with major federal officials to discuss making the $30 million New River piping eligible for federal money. We think that is a great idea. If federal money has yet to get the river cleaned up then they should at least facilitate the piping for the health and safety of the undocumented immigrants crossing through it daily, the Border Patrol agents who risk their lives in its waters to retrieve those immigrants and the Calexico residents, especially their children, who live, walk and play along its toxic banks.
The time for talk is through. It's time to get something done and not just provide the same lip service that has been a problem for decades.