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Water quality in the New River from Calexico to the Salton Sea, Imperial County, California

January 1, 1994

The New River enters the United States at Calexico, Calif., after it crosses the international boundary. Water-quality data from routine collection indicated that the New River was degraded by high organic and bacterial content. Intensive sampling for chemical and physical constituents and properties of the river was done May 9-13, 1977, to quantify the chemical composition of the water and to identify water-quality problems.

Concentrations of total organic carbon in the New River at Calexico ranged from 80 to 161 milligrams per liter and dissolved organic carbon ranged from 34 to 42 milligrams per liter; the maximum chemical oxygen demand was 510 milligrams per liter. Intensive sampling for chemical and biological characteristics was done in the New River from May 1977 to June 1978 to determine the occurrence of the organic material and its effects on downstream water quality.

Dissolved-oxygen concentration was measured along longitudinal profiles of the river from Calexico to the Salton Sea. A dissolved-oxygen sag downstream from the Calexico gage varied seasonally. The sag extended farther downstream and had lower concentrations of dissolved oxygen during the summer months than during the winter months. The sag of zero dissolved-oxygen concentration extended 26 miles in July 1977. In December 1976, the sag extended 20 miles but the minimum dissolved-oxygen concentration was 2.5 milligrams per liter. The greatest diel (24-hour) variation in dissolved-oxygen concentration occurred in the reach from the Calexico gage to Lyons Crossing, 8.8 miles downstream. High concentrations of organic material were detected as far as Highway 80, 19.5 miles downstream from the international boundary.

Biological samples analyzed for benthic invertebrates showed that water at the Calexico and Lyons Crossing sites, nearest the international boundary, was of such poor quality that very few bottom-dwelling organisms could survive. Although the water was of poor quality at Keystone Road, 36 miles downstream, it was able to support a benthic community. The April sample had more than 9,150 organisms on a multiplate sampler, 8,770 of which were of one species. Farther downstream at the Westmorland gage, the water quality, as indicated by the number and diversity of organisms, had improved over that at the Keystone site. The Alamo River at its outlet to the Salton Sea--the control site--had the greatest diversity of all the study sites. This diversity, when compared with the diversity at the Westmorland gage, indicated that the effects of the degraded water quality observed at the New River at Calexico are detected as far as 62 miles downstream. Standard bacteria indicator tests indicate that fecal contamination exists in the New River. Counts of fecal coliform bacteria ranged from 180,000 to 2,800,000 colonies per 100 milliliters for the 20-mile reach from Calexico to Highway 80, and fecal streptococcal bacteria ranged from 5,000 to 240,000 colonies per 100 milliliters.