For Immediate Release: June 19, 2015
- North Las Vegas City Councilman Isaac Barron (NV), 702-375-7865
- State Representative Joe Salazar (D-CO), 303-895-7044
- State Representative David Gallegos (R-NM), 575-390-7570
- Nicole Gonzalez Patterson, Nuestro Río Director, 602-316-1343
Latino Elected Officials Call for Presidential Candidates to Weigh in on Western Drought
Lake Mead nears 1075 foot low, signaling possible water cuts to NV and AZ, points to urgency
Las Vegas, Nevada -- As the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Conference in Las Vegas wraps up today, members of the Nuestro Río Regional Water Caucus made note that none of the three presidential candidates delivering keynote addresses spoke about their plans to deal with water challenges in the West, despite the fact that polls clearly demonstrate water is one of the top concerns to Latino voters, as well as to many Westerners in general.
“The lack of discussion among the candidates about water policy was conspicuous,” said Nuestro Río Director Nicole Gonzalez Patterson. “The Lake Mead reservoir is about to hit a critical low; this predetermined threshold triggers serious discussions about mandatory water cuts to both Nevada and Arizona. Given the urgency of the situation, we had hoped for some insights about the candidates’ positions on water policy.”
While an abnormally heavy rainfall in Colorado last month may give the Colorado River basin a reprieve, that in no way guarantees water supplies are sufficient. The Bureau of Reclamation has revised Lake Mead level projections for January 2017 to 1079 feet, due to the unusual precipitation, but the Bureau continually revises its forecasts, and any short-term gain can easily be wiped out by future unpredictable changes in precipitation and climate.
Irrespective of long-term projections, BOR is expecting Lake Mead for the first time to hit 1,075 feet today, a level that is considered an “early warning signal” of how serious the “water gap” has become.
“Whether the drought continues or abates, the fundamental problem remains. Our water challenges are primarily about an over-allocated Colorado River,” said Colorado State Representative Joe Salazar. “While it is true that multiyear drought issues have taken their toll on Colorado River water supplies, the bottom line is that there are just too many straws taking water out of the river and the needs for people, cities and farms aren’t balanced with protecting rivers.”
The Colorado River, which courses through seven states in the U.S., is fundamental to the Western and Latino way of life. The river supports irrigation for agriculture, essential habitat for healthy fish and wildlife populations and water for municipalities and industry. In total, more than $1.4 trillion in economic activity, $800 billion in wages, and 16 million jobs are dependent on the Colorado River system. Put into perspective, nearly two-thirds of the basin region’s economic value would vanish if Colorado River water was no longer available
“For Latinos living in the Southwest, the Colorado River occupies a special place,” said North Las Vegas City Councilman Isaac Barron. “In addition to its vast economic and environmental contributions, the river is at the heart of our culture for centuries. Our faith communities still baptize people in the mighty “Red” river. Protecting the river is more than just smart water management for Latinos in the Colorado River basin; it is honoring part of a rich heritage. And as citizens of the Colorado River Basin, we must pay attention and look after it.”
Leaders in the Colorado River basin agree that “we are all in this together” and that cooperation and collaboration among states is the primary driver for solutions to the common basin water challenges.
Working together, thriving cities, growing economies, vibrant agriculture and healthy watersheds and rivers are achievable even in dry times. But the basin states also acknowledge the necessity for federal, along with state leadership in the basin, to help establish a road map for the Colorado River basin that optimizes existing water infrastructure, maximizes available water supplies, restores healthy watersheds and provides healthy river flows for communities and ecosystems of the Colorado Basin.
“We applaud the White House and the federal agencies for already taking bold steps, with a plan to help farmers, ranchers, and families affected by the drought, many of which are part of Latino communities,” said Nuestro Río’s Nicole Gonzalez Patterson. “With 35 percent of the West suffering from severe or exceptional drought, it is encouraging to see the Administration respond effectively. We are looking for southwestern states to also take big steps to address drought.”
“Above all, it is imperative that state, local and federal agencies working in concert act now -- before we face a situation like California. With over 36 million people relying on Colorado River water, we must not hesitate to move swiftly,” said New Mexico State Representative David Gallegos. “For that reason, it is critical that the Presidential candidates begin to outline their water management platforms, so that we may know how they will address shortages while keeping our rivers flowing. We must not under any circumstance delay and bankrupt this life-giving resource.”
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