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In Denver visit, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland pledges federal response to drought, climate change

The federal government intends to provide immediate assistance to water users impacted by the West’s historic drought and develop longer-term strategies to respond to climate change, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland pledged Thursday during a visit to Denver.

Haaland — flanked by Assistant Interior Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, and Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead — spoke to the press after meeting with state and local officials at the Denver Water Administration building to discuss collaborating on addressing climate change and water-related issues in the West.

Haaland said the Bureau of Reclamation is working to identify and disperse “immediate financial and technical assistance for impacted irrigators and Indian tribes” while also tackling longer-term climate change responses, including building more resilient communities and protecting the natural environment.

“Being from New Mexico, I know how much climate change impacts our communities, from extended fire seasons to intense drought and water shortages, and I know how important the Colorado River Basin is to these discussions,” Haaland said.

“Drought doesn’t just impact one community,” she added. “It affects all of us, from farmers and ranchers to city dwellers and Indian tribes. We all have a role to use water wisely, manage our resources with every community in mind, work collaboratively and respect each other during this challenging time.”

More than one-third of Colorado is in severe drought conditions, DeGette said during the news conference.

Eric Lutzens, The Denver Post

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland speaks during a press conference discussing water shortages and the current western drought conditions at the Denver Water Administration Building in Denver on Thursday, July 22, 2021.

“The Colorado River, which serves 40 million people across the West, is tapped out,” DeGette said. “River beds have run dry, reservoirs that supply us with clean drinking water are essentially empty.”

While the Front Range is home to 80% of Colorado’s population, it only accounts for about 20% of the state’s water, DeGette said.

“Most of our water in Denver comes from the Western Slope,” DeGette said. “That’s why it’s so important to have everybody working together and have national leadership through Secretary Haaland and the Biden administration to address the very real and looming issue of climate change… We’re facing issues which we’re seeing right now of fires, of droughts and more.”

Haaland is headed to Grand Junction — where she’ll visit the Bureau of Land Management’s new headquarters for the first time — and Ridgway later in the week to discuss wildfire preparedness and the state’s outdoor recreation economy.

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