LAS VEGAS (AP) – Hispanic leaders in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado are sending a musical message to policy makers urging them to protect the Colorado River.

The national advocacy group Nuestro Rio is launching their campaign Thursday to raise awareness about the importance of the river to the Hispanic community. Nuestro Rio means “Our River” in English.

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The events in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Albuquerque and Denver will feature traditional folk music from Mexico with lyrics about the river’s shrinking water levels.

Chronic drought, climate change and increased demand 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.

“These are the practical solutions that will help make a huge difference,” said Sal Rivera, a lawyer and Latino activist overseeing the group’s Phoenix outreach. “It’s not that we are just focused on the Latino community, but, rather as a Latino myself, how we can raise awareness in the Latino community and recognize the challenges facing the river?”

Latinos have a long relationship with the Colorado, according to Nuestro Rio organizers. Labor activist Cesar Chavez organized farmworkers in fields irrigated with water from the river. The states that receive water from the basin 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 Walmart founder Sam Walton.

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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 National Resource 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.

“With dependencies for agricultural use and urban use, we really need to be careful about how we’re using our water and what we’re doing with it,” she said.

By CRISTINA SILVA, Associated Press

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