Latinos celebrate César Chávez holiday with song calling for Colorado River conservation

Add the Latino community to the growing chorus of concern for the Colorado River.

Latinos in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico marked the 85th anniversary of César Chávez’s birthday with a new song, or corrido, that asks policymakers to protect the river.

The Colorado River winds through Westwater Canyon in Utah. (Photo by Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism)
“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 spokesman for a group called Nuestro Rio, made up of thousands of Latinos in the Southwest who educate communities about the history of their culture and the river.

Chávez did much of his life’s work organizing farmworkers in Colorado River basin states. Latinos have relied on the waterway and its tributaries to drink, farm and recreate since the 16th century when it provided sustenance, navigation and transportation for Spanish conquistadors.

Over the centuries, the river has lost much of its might. It no longer spills into the Gulf of California but instead dries up in a dusty wasteland in Mexico. Climate change, drought, unrelenting urban demand and stepped-up oil and gas exploration are all contributing to the Colorado River’s decline.

Nuestro Rio is calling on lawmakers and utility companies to raise the river’s water flows.

“The Latino voice, heritage and economic component of the Colorado River are a big part of [its] story,” U.S. Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle said at a Denver event Thursday. “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.”

The United States and Mexico are in negotiations over a new allocation agreement for the river. A coalition of conservation groups in the Southwest delivered more than 5,000 signatures to the U.S. Department of State this week, also urging officials to restore flows to the Colorado River Delta.

Nuestro Rio is emphasizing three broad strategies to better protect the Colorado River:

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. 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.

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