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Hispanic group launches Colorado River campaign

LAS VEGAS — A new conservation campaign is sending a musical message to policy makers and Hispanics in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado, urging them to protect the Colorado River.

Nuestro Rio launched its advocacy effort Thursday with events in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Albuquerque and Denver, aimed at raising awareness about the river's shrinking water levels. At the heart of the campaign was an original Mexican-style song called "Corrido de Nuestro Rio," or "Folk Song About Our River," with lyrics about family, tradition and culture.

"It's our river, the blood of my grandfather," the song implores. "And as Cesar Chavez said, 'Yes, we can' save our river."

Chronic drought, climate change and population growth are drying up the Colorado River, which provides water for seven states and Mexico.

Nuestro Rio organizers say Latinos have a special history with the river and need to be educated about how to preserve it. They are advocating for improved urban conservation, enhanced agricultural efficiency and instituting water banks. The organization claims 13,000 members across the West.

At the Las Vegas event, a mariachi band dressed in traditional garb performed the corrido, a song passing down oral history, as a handful of activists, politicians and locals ate tacos and discussed the diminishing water supply at the river's two huge reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

"You can see where the lake used to be and where it is today," said Nevada state Sen. Mo Denis. "That should be a concern to us because we want this great resource to be available to our families."

In New Mexico, a small group of government officials and supporters gathered at the National Hispanic Cultural Center to talk about the Colorado River's connection to the Rio Grande and to hear Lenore Armijo sing the traditional ballad as she strummed on her guitar.

The song compares the river to a mother who gives her children life and love and talks about its origins in the Rocky Mountains and how it now barely trickles down to Sonora, Mexico.

Latinos have a long relationship with the Colorado, according to Nuestro Rio organizers. Chavez, a Mexican-American labor activist, organized farmworkers in fields irrigated with water from the river. Many of the states that receive water from the basin — California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming — also tend to have dense Hispanic populations.

The effort is funded by the Walton Family Foundation, an education reform-focused charity operated by the children of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton.

The Colorado River Basin serves more than 36 million people, and water managers with the Bureau of Reclamation are considering dozens of ideas as part of a larger study of supply and demand throughout the basin.

The combination of a dismal winter snowpack and warmer-than-normal start to the year is cause for concern as demand continues to grow.

Forecasts in early April showed spring and summer stream flows at less than 70 percent of normal in much of the basin, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. In some areas, predictions were more dire — at less than 50 percent.

"We could find ourselves not getting our full percentage of the Colorado River," said Deanna Archuleta, an Albuquerque consultant and former deputy assistant secretary for water and science with the Interior Department.

Archuleta, who is supporting Nuestro Rio in its efforts, said there's a lack of understanding that the Colorado connects the Rio Grande, the Gila River and other waterways throughout the Southwest.

"These are huge, rich cultural resources that we use to grow our chile, to grow our communities," she said. "The Latino community I think has nurtured our rivers. It is our life blood."

With agricultural and urban pressures mounting on the Colorado basin, Archuleta said: "We really need to be careful about how we're using our water and what we're doing with it."

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Nuestro Rio http://nuestroriocorrido.weebly.com/

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Cristina Silva can be reached at http://twitter.com/cristymsilva.