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August 20, 2019

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Presidential candidates should weigh in on water challenges at conference

Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders will visit Las Vegas from June 17-20 to address the nation’s Hispanic political leadership, a group that represents the growing and powerful Hispanic influence on election results. More than 1,200 Hispanic policymakers, leaders and elected officials are expected to attend the 32nd annual National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference (NALEO) Conference to hear the candidates’ views on the most pressing issues facing our communities across the nation. Candidates know the Hispanic vote has made a decisive impact on past presidential races in key states across the country, and in the 2016 election cycle, Hispanic voters are again projected to be a major factor in the outcome, especially in Nevada, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.

Polling of Hispanics makes our concerns clear. We place a high value on job creation and immigration policies, and we also feel strongly about the environment, particularly water — ensuring both sufficient water for drinking and agriculture, as well as water in our rivers for wildlife and healthy outdoor recreation. In fact, Hispanic voter concern in Arizona and New Mexico for low water levels in rivers is almost as high as unease about unemployment.

For Hispanics living in the Southwest, the Colorado River occupies a special place in their communities. The strong connection to the river goes to the heart of the culture. For Hispanics in the Colorado River basin, protecting the river is more than just smart water management; it is honoring part of our rich heritage of living in the Southwest.

Today, 1 out of every 3 people who live in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada is Hispanic — a substantial percentage of the 36 million people in the Southwest who rely on the Colorado River every day. Our farmers and ranchers rely on the Colorado River to irrigate their crops and water their animals. Our families use the Colorado River for recreation, entertainment and healthy outdoor living. Our faith communities still baptize people in the mighty “red” river. And as residents of the Colorado River Basin, we must protect it.

As members of Nuestro Rio’s Regional Water Caucus, Hispanic elected officials from across the Southwest who support efforts to conserve water in the Colorado River, we are working diligently to make sure the values of the many Hispanic voices are heard in policy discussions and decisions about the use and allocation of its waters. We want to make sure candidates understand that Hispanics care about the Colorado River, and we want to know how candidates are going to address shortages while keeping our rivers flowing.

The bottom line is that the Colorado River is over-extended. There are just too many straws taking water out of the river, and the needs for consumptive uses aren’t balanced with healthy flows in the river. According to the 2012 Bureau of Reclamation Colorado River Supply and Demand Study, a growing water supply-and-demand gap exists today and will only continue to expand in the future. Average river flow could decrease by nearly 10 percent by mid-century. While the record drought in some states certainly has an effect on water scarcity, the fundamental problem of over-allocation still will be here in the absence of drought.

Thankfully, we already have proven, innovative solutions to reverse the imbalances between water supply and demand that sustain rural and urban communities and restore healthy river levels. All southwestern states acknowledge we are in this together and that we can and must have thriving cities, growing economies, vibrant agriculture and healthy watersheds and rivers even in dry times. But we need leaders from communities, businesses, government and residents to come together immediately in support of practical and effective water projects. Conservation, efficiency and reuse are the quickest and most cost-effective ways to begin to address the water gap.

In addition, we need the collaboration of our federal leaders in the basin to help establish a road map for the Colorado River basin that optimizes water infrastructure, maximizes available water supplies, restores healthy watersheds, and provides healthy river flows for communities and ecosystems of the Colorado Basin.

Most importantly, together, local, state and federal leaders must recognize the urgency to act now — before we face an emergency situation like California’s.

While water in the West makes a great deal of news, largely due to extreme drought conditions, we do not hear much about it, if at all, from the field of presidential candidates. It is perhaps the most serious and immediate challenge we face, and we are hoping Clinton, Carson and Sanders take the opportunity at the NALEO Conference to address the crucial topic of water and their plans to confront these challenges. Further, we would like to hear from all of the candidates about water policy and their water management agendas.

As Arturo Vargas, NALEO executive director, said in a statement announcing presidential candidates speaking at the conference, “The road to the White House in 2016 runs through the Latino community.”

Keeping the precious Colorado River flowing for today and for our children tomorrow is something we value, and we are eager to hear the presidential candidates’ thoughts on strategies to sustain this precious resource that sustains us.

North Las Vegas City Councilman Isaac Barron, Cococino County (Ariz.) Supervisor Elizabeth Archuleta, New Mexico State Rep. David Gallegos and Colorado State Rep. Joe Salazar are members of the Nuestro Rio Regional Water Caucus.

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