The Most Polluted River in North America

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The New River in Calexico, California flows through Mexicali, Mexico.

The New River in Calexico, California. (photo: Shuka Kalantari)

The New River originates in Mexico and flows into the United States through Calexico, California. The river eventually meets up with the Salton Sea, a large inland sea. The New River is reported to be the most polluted river flowing into the U.S. from Mexico. Residents living in towns near the river - like Calexico and Holtville - have complained about the 'rotten egg' odor for many years. Various reports showed that high phosphorous levels in the river create the smell. Although no evidence shows breathing in the fumes is harmful, there are warnings posted everywhere that contact with the water is dangerous.

At the Colorado River Citizens Forum meeting held in El Centro on June 7, 2011, people discussed extensive work being done to decrease the pollutants in the New River.

Al Kalin, an Imperial County farmer,  gave a presentation about the New River Wetlands Project at the forum. The project is an innovative grass-roots approach by local residents that has provided varying benefits. The project aims to implement pollution control and improve the quality of water flowing from the New River.

The New River Wetlands Project has positive outcomes to report: both Mexicali (Calexico's neighbor across the border) and Imperial Valley have taken extensive measures in recent years to decrease pollutants and the efforts seem to be paying off. Not only has it reduced pollutants before water is emptied into the Salton Sea, it has provided a habitat for wildlife and opportunities for recreational activities.

Aerial photos of New River show the extensive drainage system brought about after the Desert Wildlife Unlimited group decided to tackle the program back in 1997. Continuous water quality monitoring will be key to showing the value of the project and provide opportunities for further wetland projects.

A history of the New River and its health effects.
By the T.V. series California Connected.

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About Helina Hoyt, RN, MS

I have always had a passion for people, and nursing has provided great opportunities to help those within my community. I was born and raised in the Imperial Valley. I grew up in a farming family. At the age of 16, I was anxious to get started with nursing and become a Certified Nursing Assistant through Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program. After graduating from Holtville High School in 1991, I pursued a bachelor’s degree in nursing at Azusa Pacific University. While at Azusa, I worked at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Post-bachelor’s degree, I was one of 14 to participate in a Critical Care and Trauma Nurse Internship through Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas. After marrying my high school sweetheart, we returned to the Imperial Valley so that our children could be raised with family nearby. Initially, I worked at Pioneers Memorial Hospital in Brawley, CA as a Charge Nurse in the ICU. After a rough pregnancy, I decided to enter school nursing, and attended San Diego State University to earn a master’s degree in Community Health Nursing, as well as a School Nurse Credential. After nearly nine years in school nursing, I became the RN-BS Program Coordinator for San Diego State University-Imperial Valley. I am thrilled to have an opportunity to improve the health of our community through nursing leadership and evidence-based practice, as the president of the Imperial Valley Nursing Council. I am married and love being a mom to two children, ages 8 and 12. I am proud to be a cancer survivor and an advocate for Type I Diabetes, since my son’s diagnosis at the age of 7.

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