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GUEST COLUMN: Latinos urge action on water conservation

By: Nita Gonzales and Al Gurule
June 3, 2016 Updated: June 3, 2016 at 4:05 am
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Colorado's large Latino population relies on our rivers for drinking water, jobs, outdoor recreation and crop irrigation. Our voices and values are similar to the vast majority of Coloradans. But for Latinos, the river and the land it nurtures is also a very personal matter. For centuries, the river provides our culture with a collective sense of "querencia," a place in which we know exactly who we are, the place from which we speak our deepest beliefs.

When the Colorado Legislature ended its session there was a flurry of action but, sadly, little progress to protect our rivers. The subject of water was barely covered, and perhaps most remarkably, taking action on Colorado's first state water plan - the blueprint for how water will be managed in Colorado for the foreseeable future - was limited to a small, generic "projects" appropriation.

The landmark water plan, released last year, addresses many water challenges facing our state including: a looming water supply and demand gap, the effects of persistent drought, protecting Colorado's interstate water rights, and other challenges that could adversely affect the lives of Coloradans.

Gov. John Hickenlooper's plan includes an unprecedented emphasis on sound conservation measures and directs attention to keeping the Colorado River healthy and flowing. Latinos in Colorado pay close attention to the protection of the Colorado River system, the primary source of water for Colorado and the southwestern U.S. and a significant part of southwestern Latino culture. For Latinos living in the Southwest, protecting this river is more than just smart water management; it is honoring part of a rich cultural heritage.

The lack of engagement on the water plan by the state assembly is surprising and unfortunate. After all, a great deal of care and thoroughness went into our state plan, including input from 30,000 Coloradans. It's been rightly hailed as a huge step for Colorado's future water management.

The final plan includes key priorities directly in line with western Latino values for water management:

- A productive economy that supports agriculture, recreation and tourism;

- An efficient and effective water infrastructure; and

- Healthy watersheds, rivers, streams, and wildlife.

The plan includes strong recommendations for funding to preserve and restore the state's rivers and streams that play an important role in Latino history and daily life. It contains a directive that Colorado invest in unprecedented stream protection and restoration in the form of "stream management plans" for our rivers.

The only real obstacle, at this point it seems, is lack of leadership and action and letting the plan languish, and that is what appears to be happening.

To ensure that the conservation values included in the plan move forward - protecting healthy river flows, our outdoor recreation industry, agricultural heritage, businesses and thriving cities - we must get started now. Gov. Hickenlooper and the Colorado Water Conservation Board should begin working with local leaders to find innovative ways to meet the plan's ambitious - but attainable - conservation goals. In the latest Colorado College poll, 77% of Coloradans say that we should use existing water resources more efficiently through conservation and reuse.

Nuestro Rio and other Latinos in Colorado are ready to work with Hickenlooper and state leaders to implement the conservation values laid out in the plan. We want to help ensure the protection of our rivers, outdoor recreation, agriculture, industry and our cities.

We ask the governor and the Colorado Water Conservation Board to take meaningful action to implement the plan without additional delays. The time is now to ensure Colorado's water, our economy and our culture is sustainable for generations to come. We are depending on it.

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Nita Gonzales is the director of Nuestro Rio, an organization representing Latinos living in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada working to educate elected officials and Latino youths about the many ways Latinos are connected to the Colorado River. Al Gurule is a former Pueblo District 2 councilman and a well-known Latino activist in Colorado since the late 1960s.

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