Living in the Southwest, we are very fortunate to be surrounded by a diversity of God’s most beautiful natural creations. We are blessed with majestic mountain vistas, desert solitude, verdant valleys and flowing rivers, and they are much of the reason why we live here. But in recent years our natural bounty has been threatened by a record drought that persists and compromises the rivers that sustain our lives.
It is in times like these we are especially called to follow our faith-based values and practice good stewardship to protect God’s creations. Stewardship, the responsibility to care for something, is one of the most fundamental and rewarding acts one can undertake. More than an action, stewardship is a connection of the highest order, a willingness to align ourselves with the intentions of our Creator.
Nowhere in the drought-plagued western U.S. is that willingness needed more than in the protection of the Colorado River, truly the lifeblood of the Southwest. Its water sustains over 40 million people in communities across the seven Colorado River basin states and Mexico, including one-third of the nation’s Latinos, and is essential to the health of fish and wildlife. It is almost inconceivable that more than $1.4 trillion in economic activity, $800 billion in wages and 16 million jobs hang in the balance of the health of the Colorado River system.
For Latinos in the Southwest, the Colorado River takes on additional meaning. It is also an integral part of our heritage and way of life. It is at the heart of our culture. To this day our faith communities baptize people in the river, as we have for centuries. We are especially reminded of our legacy at this time of year as we celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, when people across the country recognize the contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans to the United States and celebrate our rich history and contributions to America’s story.
As our beloved Colorado River and the states that depend on it face a new normal of drought, brought about by increasing temperatures and climate change, cities (especially underserved communities), agriculture and the environment are severely impacted in many regions of the river basin. The challenges in front of us demonstrate a fundamental problem on the Colorado River -- demand for its water outstrips supply. It is clear that if we do not change how we use water, this new reality will have an increasingly devastating effect on the Colorado River system and the communities, agriculture, economies, wildlife, and families that depend on it.
The 24-Month Study Report released in August by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation outlining projected operations and conditions for Colorado River system reservoirs for the next two years sounds an alarm we cannot afford to ignore. A water shortage in Lake Mead, which triggers mandatory cuts to water usage in Arizona and Nevada, was narrowly averted for 2017, but only by the slimmest of margins. Without additional action, the report predicts a shortage declaration is virtually certain in 2018 and beyond.
Fortunately, there are steps available to reduce water demand and make water management more flexible through collaboration, innovation, and conservation. In states across the West local elected officials are working with their communities to identify innovative ways to conserve water. Very promising is President Obama’s recent “Report to the Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience”, an update on his calling for federal agencies to ramp up the nation’s capabilities to accomplish long-term drought resilience. The progress report demonstrates a marked increase in state-federal and inter-agency collaboration to better meet drought resilience goals, including a partnership between USDA-DOI in the Colorado River basin.
With faith-based values guiding us, the continuing work in our communities and nationally to protect this mighty waterway can be a labor of love. When we are aware of the Master’s plan -- that we all live in the same “house” -- the rewards of aligning together with God’s intentions for us, fulfilling our stewardship responsibilities, become manifest.
In Matthew 25:40 we are called into community to offer special care to those who are most vulnerable, to minister to people and places at risk. In this spirit, we are asked to protect and sustain an endangered Colorado River. We respond willingly not only for each other but for our children and grandchildren and those yet unborn in the generations that will follow us.
Yes, it is promised that “the river of God is full of water” (Psalm 65:9), but we must care for his creation or it will fail to take care of us.
Published by La Opinion, By Pastor Emilio De La Cruz, member, Por La Creación Faith-based Alliance