Assistant Secretary For Water & Science Calls For Drought Collaboration

Assistant Secretary of Water & Science Tanya Trujillo (Left) and Ed Warner of the Bureau of Reclamation (Right)

“We have to work together,” said Tanya Trujillo, Assistant Secretary of Water & Science for the Department of the Interior, to Colorado River District board and staff on July 21. “We’re trying to develop partnerships, build off of them, and build common ground. There’s no common template; no one-size-fits-all.”  

The Assistant Secretary, along with Ed Warner of the Bureau of Reclamation, joined River District board and staff for a discussion and listening session on day two of the District’s third joint quarterly board meeting of 2021. “I’m here to hear perspectives and thoughts from what you all are seeing on the ground from your respective areas,” she said. 

The ongoing, worsening drought took center stage, with River District Board Directors asking about the Department of the Interior’s priorities for the region. She responded by saying they’re trying to provide immediate relief with the resources they have, but also are looking into new programs they can build to improve resiliency.  

“I testified a few weeks ago on the bipartisan proposal [for new infrastructure funding opportunities] and have continued to watch that develop. Hopefully we’ll see that move forward in Congress.” 

Responding to a question about infrastructure priorities, Assistant Secretary Trujillo said that there are opportunities for expanding the definition of infrastructure to be as broad as possible – from water recycling, forest management, and desalination, to above and below ground storage. “There are opportunities to be as creative as possible. Different areas have different needs, and we want to work with people to address them.” 

Trujillo emphasized that she didn’t want to minimize the challenges ahead. Hydrologically, conditions have been much drier than anticipated and the upcoming forecast for the Western U.S. point to continued water shortages and aridity. She said she anticipates a Tier 1 shortage announcement for the Colorado River Basin this month (August 2021) pursuant to the 2007 Interim Guidelines. 

River District board members stressed the importance of representation within existing regional drought response processes at state and federal levels. “How do you ensure that everyone is involved and at the table,” Director and Board President Martha Whitmore queried.  

“Each state will be evolving and developing its own set of processes,” Trujillo replied. She called out the Colorado River District as a great example of having voices from different regions at the table on issues and resources important to their areas.  

Peter Flemming, General Counsel, noted that the River District is looking out for its constituents while also supporting progress for the Upper Colorado Basin states. “I want to make sure to impress upon you as [the Department of the Interior] gets involved with these interstate negotiations, we are committed to trying to get a unified position within the Upper Basin and within the State of Colorado.” 

Both the Board and Trujillo agreed that as a region and as public-service entities, we don’t have the luxury of standing still. 

“We’re committed to moving forward,” Flemming asserted.  

The Assistant Secretary concluded the visit with an open invitation to provide feedback. “We have water quality and water quantity issues,” she said. “We have to take care of our environment.”