Aug 092012
 

In a previous post – Update on the severe drought in northern Mexico – we mentioned two cases where water was being transferred across the Mexico-USA border and where it was proving impossible to meet the terms of existing water treaties in the face of the severe drought in northern Mexico and the southern USA.

In this post, we look at two examples where the major trans-border concern is about water quality not quantity.

Case 1: The New River, California

The New River begins in Mexico as the Río Nuevo and receives agricultural runoff and industrial and domestic wastewater from the 1,000,000 or so residents of the metropolitan area of Mexicali, where a water treatment plant now operates. The New River then crosses the border northwards into California (west of the Colorado River) and flows into that state’s largest lake, the Salton Sea. The New River is about 130 kilometers long, with only the first 25 kilometers in Mexico.

The trans-border drainage basin of the New River

The trans-border drainage basin of the New River. Credit: IBWC.

The New River has a long history of high pollution levels, well documented in this Wikipedia entry: New River (Mexico – United States) and is possibly the most polluted river of its size anywhere in the USA. It is also one of the routes used by undocumented migrants entering the USA, as pointed out in this 2-minute video:

The California-Mexico Border Relations Council’s technical advisory committee recently announced a strategic plan to start cleaning up the polluted waters of the New River. In the Californian border city of Calexico, the plan calls for the installation of a 90-million-dollar water disinfection system and trash screens. Downstream, it also includes the creation of water-filtering wetlands in parts of the Imperial Valley, one of the USA’s most important agricultural areas. The strategic plan will also develop an integrated water quality monitoring and reporting program, so that changes in water quality can be quickly traced to source and any necessary cleanup measures can be implemented. The condition of the New River has been improving in the past decade, but much work remains to be done.

Case 2: Wastewater in Nogales, Arizona.

Further east along the border, Arizona state officials are suing the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) for violations to the United States Clean Water Act, alleging that untreated Mexican industrial wastewater, mixed with domestic sewage, continues to cross the USA-Mexico border into the city of Nogales, Arizona. The suit claims that the wastewater has levels of cadmium, cyanide and ammoniacal nitrogen well above legal limits. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality is demanding that the IBWC install an industrial waste treatment system at the Nogales International Wastewater Treatment Plant.

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