Official evidence of the massive pollution of the New River began in the 1940s. As Mexicali grew, the contamination got worse and worse. At one point in the 1980s, the New River was deemed the dirtiest river in the world — nearly 50 percent raw sewage — and loaded with pathogens, heavy metals and carcinogens.

Phil Gruenberg, former director of the Regional Water Quality Control Board, wrote in his history of the New River that on June 1, 1996, hundreds of people held a candlelight vigil on the banks of the river “to protest 50 years of broken promises by governments on both sides of the border to clean up the river.”

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