Latino leaders from across the West, wrote a letter to Secretary of Interior Zinke, sharing that among the many issues facing our Western communities, they have a strong cultural connection to water. From performing baptisms within its waters to acequia farming, healthy family recreation and local jobs, the Colorado River is an integral part of their heritage and way of life. And there is great concern for its future.
More than 35 million Americans rely on the Colorado River for essential water supplies, and its five million acres of irrigated farmland provide food and forage for states throughout the nation. The economic importance of the Colorado River is estimated at over $1 trillion annually, and many of the top industries and employers in the West depend on this water source to do business.
The Colorado River Basin and the states it serves are being hit by drought, increasing temperatures from climate change and other threats. Demand for the river’s water now exceeds its supply. The river is so over-tapped that it dries up to a trickle before reaching the sea. These challenges aren’t going away and pose serious risks to everything that depends on the river – including our communities, recreation, farms and factories across the Basin.
They wish to see Zinke's leadership on the following priorities:
1) Meet with Western Governors to take immediate and positive steps toward balance in the lower basin. As you noted in your confirmation hearing, there is a long-standing tradition of collaboration between the Department of Interior and the Basin states. Existing operational agreements on the Colorado River provide for reduction of deliveries to some water users in the three Lower Basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada) when Lake Mead reaches specified elevations. Your Department should convene a meeting with the Governors’ representatives of the seven Colorado River Basin States and emphasize Interior’s commitment to facilitating an equitable solution.
2) Meet with the Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. and seal the deal on shared water shortages. The Interior Department has been supporting critical conversations between the United States and Mexico to extend and expand the provisions of a recent, precedent setting Colorado River agreement (Minute 319), which expires at the end of 2017. This agreement ensures that adequate water levels are kept in Lake Mead for use in the United States, and provides water for the environment. Through ongoing cooperation, the United States and Mexico can serve as a model for additional agreements throughout the Basin that will ensure a secure water future for all who depend on the Colorado River.
3) Expand the use of market-based tools and innovative public-private collaborations to ensure water supply resilience. Through the Department of Interior’s Natural Resource Investment Center, we encourage you to increase investment in critical water infrastructure, both major rehabilitation and replacement of existing infrastructure and construction of new infrastructure. These investments will require collaboration among potential private sector funders, NGO partners, impact investors, and interested operating entities.
The complete letter with signatures can be downloaded here.