It formed last year to raise awareness of the drought-stricken Colorado River, which snakes its way across seven states and parts of Mexico and is flanked by the soaring walls of the Grand Canyon.

Now Nuestro Rio, a network of Latinos working to raise awareness about the endangered Colorado River Basin, is expanding to other states in the Southwest this year and promoting its efforts with ads and town hall forums.

It’s our responsibility to ensure that the issues of concern to our community be supported.

- Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota

Members of the coalition have called for a more rigorous federal study of the basin’s water supply that takes into account the river’s Latino heritage. They also have met with U.S. Department of the Interior officials and brought groups of students on day trips to teach them about the importance of the river to Latinos.

While the network, which formed last year, originally focused its efforts in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, it is expanding to Arizona and California, as well.

“They are likely to have the same level of activity moving forward this year,” said Andrés Ramírez, Nevada state director of Nuestro Rio and president of a Las Vegas-based consulting company.

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Ramírez said quarterly town hall forums are planned across the five states, beginning in February and March, to raise awareness in the Latino community about issues related to the Colorado River. About 28 million people live in the Lower Basin of the Colorado River, most of them Latino, according to the group.

Local musicians are recording a corrido about the river for online video release this spring. Mi Familia Vota also is running a Spanish-language radio spot in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, applauding the Obama administration’s moratorium on new uranium mining near the Grand Canyon but saying more work remains.

“It’s our responsibility to ensure that the issues of concern to our community be supported,” said Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota.

The river, which runs more than 1,400 miles through seven U.S. states, supplies municipal water to more than 30 million people in the U.S. and Mexico. It was once higher and faster moving, but chronic drought, climate change and pressures of development have left most of the river’s reservoirs half empty.

In July, the Bureau of Reclamation is expected to complete a study, which is in its fourth and final phase, of the basin’s water supply and demand, which will help shape policy for decades.

Ramírez said members of Nuestro Rio have worked with bureau officials to ensure the study uses the most accurate metrics available, as well as a variety of population projections.

The metrics will assess how various scenarios could affect the basin’s water supply and demand, as well as the feasibility of options to resolve imbalances in the system.

Carly Jerla, co-manager of the basin study, said in an email the study’s partners have worked with groups such as Nuestro Rio, The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to “identify a robust set of metrics,” with the results set to be published later this month.

In November, Anne Castle, assistant secretary for water and science for the Department of the Interior, met with members of Nuestro Rio in Denver. The next month, she mentioned the group, along with Protect the Flows Project, in a speech at the Colorado River Water Users Association conference in Las Vegas.

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“I welcome all of these voices and all of these perspectives to the issues that we grapple with together and to the web of connections that we have on the river,” said Castle, according to a transcript.

In Denver, Castle heard from students from Escuela Tlatelolco, a nonprofit private school, where about 50 high school students took a rafting trip in October near Kremmling, Colo., to learn about the river. Nearly 40 Latino high school students in Nevada took a similar trip to Lake Mohave in November.

“The great understanding I think they came away with is just the importance of water,” said Nita Gonzales, president and CEO of Escuela Tlatelolco. “One student called it gold. It’s more important than gold in some communities.”

Matthew Rodriguez is a reporter for the YourHub section of the Denver Post.

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