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Latinos rely heavily on Colorado River water amid plans for cutbacks

The Colorado River is a major source of water for Arizona. The management of its supply involves numerous stakeholders and agencies.

The Colorado River is a major source of water for Arizona. The management of its supply involves numerous stakeholders and agencies. (Photo courtesy of Central Arizona Project)

The Por La Creación: Faith-Based Alliance is a bipartisan partnership of Hispanic pastors who believe in a common-sense approach to managing our natural resources. In February, 20 of us from Arizona gathered together in the Grand Canyon to talk about the Colorado River and the need for us to take action to protect this precious resource provided by God. This river provides water for one-third of Latinos in the United States. Latinos make up the bulk of agricultural workers harvesting the produce this river waters. We boat, fish, swim and recreate along its banks. We hold baptisms in its waters. Therefore, it is critical to engage the growing Latino population on water-smart solutions.

Elizabeth Venalonzo

Elizabeth Venalonzo

We learned about the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP — an agreement between the states that use the Colorado River water, namely California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming — to reduce each state’s river use as a way to protect against catastrophic water shortages. Lake Mead, in Arizona and Nevada, is a major reservoir where Colorado River water is stored. Visiting it, you can see the “bathtub rings” showing how much the water levels have dropped. If and when the water level hits below 1,090 feet in elevation, Arizona will have the steepest mandatory cuts —192,000 acre-feet of water, or about 7 percent of the state’s annual allocation of Colorado River water. The state currently receives nearly 40 percent of its water from the Colorado River. Any further drops in water levels will lead to additional cuts across the basin, affecting jobs, economies, families, and communities that depend on the Colorado River.

The DCP is a stop- gap solution that was passed by Congress with bipartisan support on April 8 and signed into law by President Trump on April 16.

We were encouraged by the leadership of Arizona U.S. Congressional members, Republican Sen. Martha McSally and Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva, who championed the passage of the DCP in the U.S. Senate and House.

Now, that the DCP has been signed into law, the U.S. and Mexico will have about 100 days to work on their international version of the DCP, called the Binational Water Scarcity Plan, also known as Minute 323. Depending on water levels in August of 2019, Mexico may have to conserve 41,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead next year.

The widely regarded Colorado College’s 2019 Conservation in the West poll found that 82 percent of Arizona’s voters believe it is important for states to use funds to protect and restore the health of rivers, lakes and streams. In addition, 73 percent of Latino voters in the West viewed the low levels of water in rivers as a very serious problem.

The Colorado River in Arizona is an integral part of our communities, history and cultural heritage, and our way of life. We all have a moral obligation to take care of our natural resources and protect God’s creation. As we face a future of diminished water supplies we need to ask each other and those who govern to embrace an ethic of planning and collaboration to lead us into a sustainable water future for our families and future generations. Arizona needs to continue to partner with its neighboring states and the federal government to invest in technologies and programs that reduce water use and further study additional water sources to ease the burden on the Colorado River.

The Rev. Elizabeth Venalonzo is pastor of Betania Church in Yuma.

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