Interior Secretary talks drought, wildfire on Western visit

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FILE – In this March 5, 2020, file photo Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., Native American Caucus co-chair, speaks to reporters about the 2020 Census on Capitol Hill in Washington. President-elect Joe Biden plans to nominate Haaland as interior secretary. The historic pick would make her the first Native American to lead the powerful federal agency that has wielded influence over the nation’s tribes for generations. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

DENVER (AP) — Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is visiting Denver Thursday to address the federal drought response as Western U.S. states battle historic wildfires and record heat waves.

Haaland and Tanya Trujillo, the department’s assistant secretary for water and science, planned to meet with Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette, Gov. Jared Polis, and Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water, Colorado’s largest water agency, for a discussion on the region’s drought and possible federal solutions.

Most of western Colorado is under severe to exceptional drought, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Drought Monitor. Colorado’s northern region is experiencing deadly flash floods and mudslides in areas scarred by massive wildfires last year. Extreme conditions are becoming more common from a combination of unusual random, short-term, and natural weather patterns heightened by long-term, human-caused climate change.

Fires are burning across the West, especially in Oregon and California, while drought is stressing a Colorado River Basin that sustains 40 million people.

Haaland’s three-day visit to the Centennial State also includes a trip to the Bureau of Land Management’s Grand Junction headquarters which was established by the Trump administration in 2019. The move from Washington, D.C. produced an outcry from critics who said it gutted the office. Haaland opposed the move as a member of Congress.

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