Senate confirms Zinke as Interior Secretary

The new Zinke team, including appointments to Bureau of Reclamation, will need to learn quickly about the complexities of Colorado River water law and the drought-induced woes facing Lake Mead


By a comfortable 68-31 margin, the U.S. Senate today confirmed President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke.

The former Montana member of Congress will head a department that manages around 500 million acres of land and waterways in the United States.

Zinke’s department also includes the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the agency responsible for the system of dams and reservoirs on the Colorado River, the waterway that is integral to the livelihood of 40 million U.S. citizens living in the Southwest.

In a statement declaring his approval of the appointment, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said he looked forward to working with Zinke’s department, notably on behalf of Arizona’s Colorado River allotment.

“I was pleased to vote to confirm Ryan Zinke for Secretary of the Interior,” said Flake in a statement released shortly following the Senate confirmation.

“Securing the Interior Department’s commitment to honor and protect Arizona water saved in Lake Mead was a major victory for our state’s proactive water conservation efforts.

“I look forward to working with Secretary Zinke to continue this and other policies critical to combatting the drought, preventing a water shortage, and ensuring continued access to Arizona’s share of the Colorado River.”

The new Interior leadership arrives at a critical juncture for the Colorado River system. Despite recent rains and a generally strong mountain snowpack, Lake Mead especially remains perilously close to the point where mandatory supply cuts would be made to protect the reservoir from descending below critical levels.

Zinke’s confirmation opens the door for his own leadership appointments to critical posts with Reclamation, which has direct oversight responsibilities regarding the Colorado system, including Glen Canyon and Hoover dams.