While Arizona’s water managers disagree on solutions to conserve the state’s water supply, none are equivocating about the problem. With drought a chronic condition and a never-ending demand for water, the Colorado River seems to continually face an epic low point. This year, with Lake Mead hovering just 13-feet above the 1,075-feet trigger level and threatening the reality of a substantial and disruptive water shortage, the Bureau of Reclamation thankfully just gave us a reprieve.
BOR projects the water level drop won’t be quite enough to trigger an emergency shortage declaration that would force water cutbacks in Nevada and Arizona. But as water needs surge each year during the spring and summer, we could easily be in a similar situation next year.
By now most Arizonans know that the Colorado River system is arguably the hardest working river in the country. It supplies drinking water to seven states from its source in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park to Arizona where it passes into Mexico. In the Lower Colorado River Basin, which includes Arizona, the waters help irrigate millions of acres of farmland, including nearly 90 percent of the nation’s winter leafy vegetables. All in all, the river is the life source for more than 30 million people, including nearly a third of the nation’s Latinos.
In Arizona, census projections show that the Latino population is burgeoning, expected to more than triple by 2050. Today, Arizona Latinos have an annual spending power of more than $42 billion. With this fast-paced growth and increasing influence of Latino voters in the state, it is astounding that the Latino community hasn’t been more widely engaged in the future of Arizona’s water.
We absolutely need to engage diverse voices to maximize the success of any water policies, such as the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) – an agreement between Arizona, California and Nevada to reduce each state’s river use as Lake Mead declines. And we certainly need our state leaders to act with urgency in light of our new normal in the Southwest, and thankfully many of our leaders are fully aware of the need to act
But, it’s not just up to our elected officials to make water conservation happen. We all have a moral obligation to protect our waters and since no one wants to experience water cuts, we shouldn’t wait until we’re at a critical point of failure before we act. The widely regarded Colorado College’s 2018 Conservation in the West poll found that 84 percent of Arizona’s voters believe that risks to our water supply are a serious problem. In addition, 78 percent of Arizonans favor using the current water supply more wisely, by encouraging more water conservation, reducing use and increasing recycling of water instead of simply diverting more waters from rivers to address demand.
Three-quarters of Latino voters polled view themselves as a conservationist, up 18 points from two years ago, so it is the hope that Arizona Latinos, who care deeply about a secure water future, play a more active role in championing sensible and responsible water usage.
Clearly, conserving the limited Colorado River water supply must be a priority for our citizens and elected officials. The river is entrusted to us, a vital source for all of us, but we must take care of it in return. All Arizona stakeholders, working together, can sustain the health of the Colorado River, safeguard this substantial economic driver for countless communities, and make sure future generations do not remember us for failing them, but instead continue to benefit from this incredible treasure.
— Burke Montoya is pastor of Way of Life Church in Phoenix.
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.