Former Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman to head Central Arizona Project

Brenda Burman speaks during a council of water experts meeting in Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's office in Phoenix on Oct 17, 2022. They were discussing how to spend federal drought relief funds available for keeping Colorado River water in Lake Mead.
Brenda Burman speaks during a council of water experts meeting in Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's office in Phoenix on Oct 17, 2022. They were discussing how to spend federal drought relief funds available for keeping Colorado River water in Lake Mead.

Former U.S. Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman will take over as general manager of the Central Arizona Project in the new year, one that promises to include pivotal interstate negotiations over conserving the Colorado River water that supplies the CAP canal.

Burman led the Bureau of Reclamation during the Trump administration, a period in which the agency managing Colorado River water and dams helped broker a Drought Contingency Plan. In that plan, Arizona agreed to take less water from the system to prevent catastrophic losses later.

Continued poor weather and overuse have since set off new talks about conserving more in an attempt to halt Lake Mead's slide toward the point that the river no longer flows past it.

CAP has so far taken the largest cuts in water from the river, which it delivers to the Phoenix and Tucson areas. Federal officials last week put states on alert that if they and their largest water users don't soon reach an agreement on keeping more water in the reservoirs, the government may impose necessary additional cuts by next year.

Brenda Burman seated, then the commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, applauds after the signing of the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan, May 20, 2019, at Hoover Dam. Looking on are representatives the from seven Colorado River Basin states, who also signed the plan.
Brenda Burman seated, then the commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, applauds after the signing of the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan, May 20, 2019, at Hoover Dam. Looking on are representatives the from seven Colorado River Basin states, who also signed the plan.

The 336-mile CAP canal still transports about a third of the state's reduced share of the river but has a lower legal priority than older diversions for farms and cities around Yuma and Southern California. More cuts loom.

"There is a lot to do and no time to waste," Burman said in a CAP news release announcing her appointment on Thursday. "I will be focused on navigating the path for CAP through the next few years, which I believe will set the course for the next few decades.”

Since last year Burman has worked for CAP as a strategy adviser. She was not immediately available for interviews.

Brenda Burman, who will take over as general manager of the Central Arizona Project in January, listens during a council of water experts meeting in Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's office in Phoenix on Oct 17, 2022.
Brenda Burman, who will take over as general manager of the Central Arizona Project in January, listens during a council of water experts meeting in Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's office in Phoenix on Oct 17, 2022.

The Central Arizona Water Conservation Board selects CAP's general manager and chose Burman to replace Ted Cooke, who will retire in January. Cooke has led the agency since 2016, participating in some of the state's most difficult negotiations about the river. He has recently suggested that Reclamation should start subtracting evaporation and transport losses from each state's share, a plan that would require California to share in the mandatory cuts.

Burman worked as a Grand Canyon park ranger before earning a law degree at the University of Arizona, according to CAP. She has worked in federal and state water policy for at least 20 years, at jobs including legislative counsel to former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona; water policy adviser at the Nature Conservancy; special projects manager for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California; water policy director at Salt River Project; and in multiple Interior Department posts, including Reclamation commissioner.

“Brenda Burman is uniquely qualified for this position, bringing with her decades of experience with Arizona and water issues nationwide," CAWCD Board President and former Phoenix Mayor Terry Goddard said in the release announcing her appointment. 

Brandon Loomis covers environmental and climate issues for The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com. Reach him at brandon.loomis@arizonarepublic.com or follow on Twitter @brandonloomis.

Environmental coverage on azcentral.com and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Follow The Republic environmental reporting team at environment.azcentral.com and @azcenvironment on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Former federal water manager named Central Arizona Project chief