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Underscoring efforts to cleanse New River

April 21, 2002|By DARREN SIMON

Staff Writer

When the idea was discussed of having a bird festival coincide with Earth Day activities, one goal was to show area residents what is being done locally to improve the environment.

In particular, organizers of the Imperial Valley Bird/Nature Festival held Saturday set the New River Wetlands Project near Imperial as one of the tour sites for the festival.

The organizers of Saturday's festival and Earth Day activities included officials with the wetlands project and the county Office of Education's Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program.

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The idea of the festival was to show people in the Imperial Valley the efforts under way to cleanse the water flowing north from the New River to the Salton Sea.

The ultimate aim of the wetlands project is to reduce the amount of nutrients flowing into the sea as a way to protect the ecosystem and prevent the massive fish kills that have plagued the sea.

There are two wetlands project sites — the site near Imperial and one near Brawley.

Those on Saturday's tour had a chance to walk the 68-acre site near Imperial. That wetlands was designed to take agriculture drain water and clean it through a series of ponds before it flows into the New River and finally into the sea.

The wetlands area east of Imperial is seemingly hidden in an environment that could be called an oasis in the middle of rugged desert terrain.

The area is open to the public and is an ideal spot for hiking and bird-watching. The unfamiliar calls of birds — some not typically seen in back yards — can be heard throughout the area.

The second pond near Brawley takes water directly from the New River and cleans it through a ponding system before it enters the river again and flows into the sea.

The Imperial site collects sediments, suspended solids and nutrients and settles them out using vegetation and bacteria in the soil to cleanse the water as it flows from one pond into another.

Marie Barrett, coordinator of the wetlands project, said the concept was initiated in 1997 and by 2000 water was flowing through the wetlands.

She called it a grassroots effort pushed forward by Imperial Valley resident Leon Lesicka and Rep. Duncan Hunter, who represents Imperial County and eastern San Diego County.

Some $3 million in grant funding was awarded to build, maintain and monitor the wetlands.

Barrett said the wetlands have made a difference in improving the quality of water that flows into the sea, reducing solids in the water from 82 to 98 percent.

Barrett added it is likely more wetlands projects will be built in the future as funding becomes available. She said possible sites have already been chosen for future wetlands.

She pointed out to those touring the wetlands that while the numbers of wetlands are reducing throughout the nation, "here in the desert we are adding wetlands."

Barrett added that along with serving as natural water cleansers, the wetlands have become important habitats for wildlife.

"Everything has discovered this area and they have moved in," she said.

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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