White House Announces “Natural Resource Investment Center” to Confront Drought

December 15, 2015

Stephen Koenigsberg, 303-915-7301, skpublicrelations@gmail.com

White House Announces “Natural Resource Investment Center” to Confront Drought 
Nuestro Rio urges enhanced funding, focus on protecting Colorado River

DENVER, COLORADO – Today Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced the new “Natural Resource Investment Center” that aims to facilitate partnerships among federal, state, local and tribal governments, and private sector investors to maximize investment in critical water infrastructure and cultivate more efficient water allocation.

“We applaud the President’s continued response to a drought crisis that has been relentless for many Latino communities in the American West,” said Nicole Gonzalez Patterson, Director, Nuestro Rio. “Drought and climate change disproportionately affects Latino families and communities, which are among the most susceptible to climate disruption and extreme weather. These issues are very personal for us.”

Nuestro Río (www.nuestrorio.com) is an organization representing Latinos living in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada working to educate elected officials and youth about the many ways Latinos are connected to the Colorado River. The group’s leadership includes a 34-member Regional Water Caucus made up of bipartisan Latino local elected officials as well as a Latino Youth Leader Program that helps educate Latino youth about the value of the Colorado River.

Latinos make up a large percentage of the 40 million people in the Colorado River basin who rely on the river for drinking water; in fact, one out of every three people living in the states around the Colorado River is Latino. For Latinos in the basin, the river is not just an economic driver but also has a special cultural significance, and has been at the heart of southwestern Latino culture for centuries.

According to Interior, “the Center will work closely with the private sector and others to identify innovative ideas and financing options for projects that conserve scarce Western water resources and protect species habitat.” Primary objectives will be to increase investment in water conservation and critical water infrastructure, and foster private investments to better facilitate conservation for species and habitats.

 “We need greater coordination to combat this record drought, especially in managing the big picture -- which is an over-extended Colorado River,” said Nicole Gonzalez Patterson, Director, Nuestro Rio.  “To sustain our communities and irrigated agriculture, and at the same time support fish and wildlife and a multimillion dollar outdoor recreation economy, the river needs our attention. With President Obama’s leadership, we can ensure the Colorado River is not the next drought crisis.”

 In addition to announcing the Center, Secretary Jewell announced that $21 million in WaterSMART grants would be available to communities across the West; applications are due by January 20, 2016.  WaterSMART is a grant program under Bureau of Reclamation that invites tribes, irrigation districts, water districts and other organizations with water or power delivery authority to participate in water conservation and energy efficiency protects to make the West more drought resilient.

In a November letter to the President, Nuestro Rio requested that the President’s final budget request of Congress make drought response and resilience a priority. Programs such as WaterSMART and projects keeping water in the Colorado River are key to protecting the healthy river flows needed to sustain fish and wildlife and $1.4 trillion in economic benefits annually, and guard the vital water supply that millions of Latinos depend on.

“For Latinos, protecting the Colorado River is not just smart water management; it honors a rich heritage,” said Nicole Gonzalez Patterson, Director, Nuestro Rio.  “Nuestro Rio and other Latino organizations stand ready to step up and help to make drought response and healthy river flows a priority across the basin, whenever and wherever possible. Our communities depend on it.”