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There’s new hope for one of North America’s most polluted rivers. In a Strategic Plan released last month by the California-Mexico Border Relations Committee, faculty of UC Davis Extension—commissioned by the New River Technical Advisory Committee—outline a plan for restoring the New River, which runs from Mexicali in Mexico to the Salton Sea in the Imperial Valley. “The plan proposes taking a community liability and turning it into an asset,” says Jeff Loux, Ph.D., chair of UC Davis Extension’s Science, Agriculture and Natural Resources Department. “It essentially treats the entire river, which, to our knowledge, has never been done before.”
The New River, starting just south of Mexicali and running through the Imperial Valley, is highly polluted with domestic, agricultural and industrial waste from both countries. “It is certainly an issue of environmental justice that has gone unchecked for more than 50 years,” says Loux who served as a consultant and principal investigator for the plan. Damaged by more than half a century of neglect, the New River has been inhibiting economic growth and recreational opportunities in disadvantaged communities already suffering from high unemployment and income inequality while simultaneously causing serious ecosystem devastation.
Pursuant to California Assembly Bill 1079, the New River Improvement Project aims to study, monitor, remediate and enhance the New River’s water quality. The plan acknowledges the progress made on both sides of the border since the ’90s and proposes to continue such projects. But it also adds some new key solutions—including disinfection and trash screens at the border and wetland sites to treat agricultural run-off.
Restoring the water quality, habitat and river corridor conditions will improve public health and support a healthy ecosystem along the river and the Salton Sea. It will also enhance community development and could help reinvigorate the local economy. “The plan’s innovation is in its ability to engage all stakeholders, agencies and communities and come up with a solution that works for the entire river system,” explains Loux. “It sets up a menu of possibilities.”
UC Davis Extension’s reputation for delivering quality training, outreach and facilitation—as well as ready access to experts at UC Davis—positioned the organization as an optimal choice for providing consultation and strategic planning to the Project. Gene Crumley, chair of UC Davis Extension’s Business and Leadership Department, served alongside Jeff Loux as the co-principal investigator. They were assisted by various consultants, including Tara Zygofsky, a doctoral student at UC Davis, Krista Sloniowski of Connective Issue in Southern California and Robert Emerick, Ph.D., of Stantec, Inc., Wastewater Engineering. “This is an important step. After decades of abuse, the New River has the chance to be restored. And if it works here, the model can be applied to other trans-national waterways around the world. It takes people, agencies and countries coming together and committed to making a difference” says Loux.
UC Davis Extension, the continuing and professional education division of UC Davis, has been an internationally recognized leader in educational outreach for individuals, organizations and communities for more than 50 years. With more than 50,000 annual enrollments in classroom and online university-level courses, UC Davis Extension serves lifelong learners in the growing Sacramento region, all 50 states and nearly 90 countries. For more information about UC Davis Extension and its programs, visit http://extension.ucdavis.edu.