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A Slice of Live Along the River's
Smelly Banks

By Gary Polakovic
The Press-Enterprise

® Calexico

Betty Solorzano always wanted a house she always wanted a house she could own but never found one she could afford. One day her dream came true when she bought a modes, new three-bedroom home that fit her budget, her family of four and was close to the Mexico border and her job in Calexico.

The predominantly Hispanic neighborhood is well-kept, the people friendly, except for one ugly neighbor -- the New River. It traverses a soggy circle around the Calexico Mesa subdivision and near Solorzano's back yard.

"I don't like living next to the river behind my house, but for me there was no choice. This was the house that was affordable," she said.

Many young families and children live in the housing tract. The kids play by the river. They ride their bicycles and all-terrain vehicles through its reedy, mosquito-infested bands after school. Swaying stands of bamboo and cottonwood trees offer cool shade, a rare commodity in blistering Imperial County.

Dirt is being graded for a park and ball field near Solorzano's house. When it is completed, children will have a new place to play, although the park will be closer still to the river's edge.

"When you buy something new, you don't really mind the environment. But once you're here, you start thinking 'Maybe I should have bought someplace else,' " said Andres Hernandez of Calexico, who has lived around the corner from Solorzano for the past six years.

Hernandez said he has gotten used to the stench of raw sewage drifting through the neighborhood and the plagues of mosquitoes.

Downstream near Seeley is the Rio Bend RV Park, fittingly located beside an elbow-shaped jog in the New River. Doug and Nita Hogan manage the park and adjacent Lakeview Golf Course. They view the river with some amusement.

"Occasionally it's a little offensive," Doug Hogan said, surveying the river bottom snaking between Fig Lagoon and the 11th tee. A yellow pollution warning sign advises golfers not to stray too far from the course. "If you hit one over the fence, you don't go looking for it," he said.

Every so often, an out-of-towner has a close encounter with the river.

"There was a couple of guys that waded and swam across the New River and came into the store (at the RV park) for bait and snacks," Doug Hogan recalled, shocked by the sight of the smelly customers.

"I thought they would die in the next two weeks," Nila Hogan said. "They'd had a little too much to drink."

The couple warned them about the river. The two young men returned to their camp, careful to cross the bridge on the way back.

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