Latino Voices Echo in the Southwest to Save the Colorado River
Launch of new corrido celebrates Latino culture, raises awareness and calls for commonsense action
Latinos gathered in four states to call for practical measures to help build water levels in the Colorado River. With the release of a new corrido, which is song that traditionally passes on oral history in the Latino community, they marked the 85th anniversary of Cesar Chavez’s birthday and held coordinated actions in four Southwestern states – Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. (Chavez did much of his life’s work organizing farmworkers in Colorado River basin states.) The corrido remembers Chavez and sends a musical message to policy makers that Latinos want utilities and state and federal governments to implement commonsense policies that will allow the Colorado River to flow strongly into the future.
Chronic drought, climate change and increased demand are drying up the Colorado River. Demand on the Colorado River’s water exceeds its supply. Over the last 12 years, the river has lost 35 percent of the stored water available through consumption and drought[i]. The mighty river that emptied into Mexico’s Gulf of California for centuries now dries up short of the sea.
The river is essential to the entire nation’s food supply and it provides drinking water and recreational opportunities for communities throughout the Colorado River Basin. Latinos have used the waters of the Colorado River and its tributaries to drink, farm and recreate for generations. That history stretches back to the 16th century, when the Colorado River provided sustenance, navigation and transportation for “Conquistador” Spanish explorers.
Nuestro Rio, a growing network of 13,000 Latinos in the Southwest who use their collective voice to educate communities about the history of Latinos and the Colorado River and to advocate for a healthy river for generations to come, used today’s four-city launch of its corrido to call on policymakers to take action immediately.
“If we do nothing, the price of water will spike, agriculture and rural communities will become less viable, and households will be forced by utilities and governments to make drastic changes in how they use water,” said Andres Ramirez, a Nuestro Rio spokesperson. “The basic math of demand exceeding supply means that the status quo is unsustainable.”
At events in Albuquerque, Denver, Las Vegas, and Phoenix, Latino leaders and community members were joined by elected officials, utilities officials, and government agency heads in events that featured lived performances of the corrido and a call for commonsense measures to solve the imbalance and maintain the river.
At the Denver event, Anne Castle, assistant secretary for water and science of U.S. Department of the Interior said, “[T]he Latino voice, heritage and economic component of the Colorado River are a big part of the story. The River provides millions of jobs from the headwaters to the delta. There is more demand than supply right now. We are analyzing the best solutions to correct the imbalance. Nuestro Rio is at the table.” That sentiment was echoed at all of the events as Nuestro Rio emphasized the need to embrace and implement practical solutions that fall into three broad categories:
- Improve Urban Conservation: If the efficiency of urban water use can continue to be improved by just one percent per year, significant water savings will be realized at very low cost. Municipal utilities have already been improving at this rate for the last two decades[ii]. As technology improves and know-how spreads, the toolbox available to utilities continues to expand. Improve Agricultural Efficiency: About 70 percent of the water consumed from the Colorado River and its tributaries goes to agricultural use. Both the long-term health of the Colorado River and the viability of farms, ranches and rural communities in the Southwest depend on helping agricultural water users become more efficient.
- Establish “Water Banks”: Water banks use markets to facilitate temporary or permanent transfer of water rights among water users, thereby moving water to where it is needed most. This can benefit the Colorado River because it reduces the need for new water diversions from the river, and banked water can be used for any uses, including protecting the environmental health of the river.
“We have to focus on practical and cost-effective measures – not impractical proposals that will do little to solve this problem and hurt millions of people,” Ramirez said, referring to suggestions that include building pipelines from the Mississippi River to New Mexico and towing down icebergs to Southern California from Alaska. Ramirez argues that such proposals are enormously expensive and would face significant logistical and political hurdles.
“Nuestro Rio is calling for common sense measures that can begin to be implemented now,” Ramirez said. “We must start improving urban conservation, enhancing agricultural efficiency, and instituting water banks to meet the demand and preserve the river.”