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Wetlands a success for river cleanup

February 16, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

IMPERIAL — Efforts to clean up the New and Alamo rivers through the use of wetlands have been more than 90 percent successful, according to those involved.

The rivers were the topic of discussion at a joint meeting of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Public Works Association on Wednesday.

Leon Lesicka of Brawley, founder of Desert Wildlife Unlimited, gave the groups the history and background of two wetlands being used to clean the rivers.

One of the projects is a 7-acre site near Brawley and uses water from the New River. The other is a 68-acre site near Imperial, and uses water from the Rice agricultural drain, which eventually empties into the New River.


Two primary goals of the $3.75 million, three-year projects are to improve water quality to meet state Colorado River Basin Regional Water Quality Control Board objectives within the existing agricultural economy and to improve the aquatic environmental conditions for wildlife, specifically avian and fish populations. The projects are expected to reduce nutrients, pathogens and industrial waste in the New River and nutrients and agriculture chemicals in ag drains.

"The reports have been exceptionally good," Lesicka said of the projects' effects on the rivers. "On our test pilots we're exceeding 90 percent cleanup. They won't be trout streams but they'll be very, very good."

The two wetlands pilot projects were built through efforts of a local congressional task force, made up of a group of private organizations and public agencies.

The task force has now retained a San Diego engineering firm, Nolte Associates, which has an office in El Centro, to further study the rivers and decide where as many as 35 more wetlands could be located.

How the firm has gone about its work was the subject of discussion.

Richard Hall, an engineer with Nolte, said the use of wetlands for cleaning the rivers results in the creation of wildlife habitat, that they are an efficient filter of the target pollutants, they are cost-effective and they have a proven track record.

He also said the pilot projects have resulted in a reduction in total solids in excess of 90 percent and an increase in dissolved oxygen — evidence the wetlands are doing what was expected. He also said wetlands are less expensive than water-treatment plants and design, construction and long-term maintenance are less costly.

Hall said some of the criteria considered when choosing where to locate future wetlands include whether the water can be moved by gravity without structural improvements, with structural improvements and with pumping.

He said with sufficient federal funding, there could be as many as 35 more wetlands.

"No matter what we do, it will be better," he said.

Added Bill Miller, Nolte office manager in El Centro: "This is mother nature at its best if you have the land to do it."

The meeting was at Mama's Place.

>> Staff Writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.

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