#COWaterPlan: We applaud the attention paid in the plan to Latino conservation values and water priorities — Nita Gonzales

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Nita Gonzales)

After 30 months of discussions, meetings and public input from 30,000 Coloradans, the Colorado State Water Plan is completed. As stated by Gov. John Hickenlooper in his executive order initiating the plan in May 2013, it is “Colorado’s first water plan, written by Coloradans, for Coloradans.”

For Latinos in Colorado, the plan is certainly an important first step.

It addresses many of our concerns about the protection of the Colorado River system, which is the primary source of water for Colorado and the Southwestern United States, and a significant part of Southwestern Latino culture. The river occupies a special place in Latino communities, and has been at the heart of our culture for centuries.

For us, protecting the river is not just smart water management; it also honors our heritage.

We applaud the attention paid in the plan to Latino conservation values and water priorities. The plan creates strong statewide water conservation targets in cities and towns, recommends annual funding for healthy rivers, and does not call for additional costly and controversial trans-mountain diversions, which harm rivers and local communities.

Rivers are so critical to Latino families, and before we consider large diversions, we must first ask how we protect our rivers, especially for agricultural uses that are the foundation for the economic well-being of many Latinos.

It is gratifying to see that for the first time ever the plan includes strong recommendations for funding to preserve and restore the state’s rivers and streams that play such an important role in Latino history and daily life. The plan proposes unprecedented investments in stream management plans for 80 percent of the priority list of rivers and streams as determined by Colorado’s basin roundtables. Latinos represent a sizeable 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 (in Colorado it is one in five). While the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the water plan’s architect, was open to meetings and discussions as it developed the plan, Nuestro Rio believes the Latino community by its sheer numbers should be more involved in planning and helping to determine Colorado’s water strategies going forward.

Assuredly, hard decisions will come next as we implement key recommendations in the final state water plan.

And those decisions should not be made without more Latino voices at the table.

Our voices and values are similar to the vast majority of the 30,000 public comments submitted, supporting a strong statewide municipal conservation goal, funding to protect Colorado’s rivers, and opposing large new river-draining diversions of water from Colorado’s West Slope.

But for Latinos, the river and the land it nurtures, is also a very personal matter. For centuries, the river provides our culture with a collective sense of “querencia,” a place in which we know exactly who we are, the place from which we speak our deepest beliefs.

As we move onto the path set by the state water plan, Nuestro Rio and other Latinos in Colorado stand ready to work with Gov.

Hickenlooper and state leaders to implement the conservation values laid out in the plan — ensuring the protection of healthy river flows, our outdoor recreation industry, agricultural heritage, businesses and thriving cities — for our families now and for the generations to come.

Nita Gonzales is Colorado state director of Nuestro Río, representing Latinos living in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, She works to educate elected officials and youth about the many ways Latinos are connected to the Colorado River. See nuestrorio.com.