Interior Department official playing key role in Colorado River talks resigns

WASHINGTON (AP) — A senior Interior Department official who played a key role in negotiations to narrow the Colorado River plans to leave his post next week.

Tanya Trujillo told the department she intended to step down as assistant secretary for water and science about six weeks ago and her last day is Monday, she told The Associated Press. Trujillo, who has held the post since June 2021, said it made sense to leave now as the Biden administration prepares for a re-election campaign.

“It’s a normal transition period, either committing to stay until the end of the (presidential) term or leaving before the campaign really kicks off,” she said. “I’m really, really proud and happy with all the accomplishments we’ve put in place and achieved.”

The Interior Ministry declined to comment further on his departure.

Trujillo oversaw agencies such as the US Geological Survey and the US Bureau of Reclamation. She played an important role in discussions between the federal government, seven U.S. states, and Native American tribes that share the waters of the 1,450-mile (2,334-kilometer) Colorado River. The waterway, which supports 40 million people and a $5 billion agricultural industry, has been in crisis for years due to a decades-long drought intensified by climate change, rising demand and the overuse.

His departure comes as states, cities and farmers who depend on the river are still struggling to decide how to reduce their use. In August, the ministry will present its annual analysis on the health of the river and announce if there will be further cuts in the coming year.

In recent years, the federal government has cut some states’ water allocations and offered billions of dollars to farmers, cities and others to reduce them. But top water officials – including Trujillo – did not consider these efforts enough to prevent the system from collapsing.

Last summer, the US Bureau of Reclamation called on states to figure out how to use between 15% and 30% less in 2023. But states missed the deadline set by federal officials, who also appeared to back down.

A deal remained elusive for months more, until Arizona, Nevada and California announced a groundbreaking agreement in May to reduce their use in exchange for $1.2 billion in federal money. The interior always examines the plan.

Anne Castle, who served as Trujillo from 2009 to 2014, said the job has become “significantly more difficult” in recent years due to rapidly declining water supplies available to Colorado River users.

“These are tough tasks at the best of times,” Castle said.

Prior to joining Interior, Trujillo worked on Colorado River issues in jobs such as executive director of the Colorado River Board of California. She is a lawyer who has worked on natural resource issues for over two decades.

Trujillo said Wednesday that she plans to spend more time in her home state of New Mexico and will take some time off before returning to work on water issues.


Fonseca reported from Albuquerque, New Mexico.


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