July 31, 2019

Meet the new members of the Interstate Stream Commission

CC BY-SA 2.0) by Jeff Kubina

Panoramic view of the Rio Grande valley from the White Rock overlook in White Rock, New Mexico.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham recently appointed a new director and seven new members to the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC). The body, which is tasked with overseeing interstate water agreements and water planning for the state, has a total of nine commissioners, including a director, a chairperson and the state engineer.

The new commission members are Bidtak Becker, former executive director of the Navajo Nation Division of Natural Resources in Window Rock, Arizona; New Mexico Acequia Association executive director Paula Garcia, who also serves as chair of the Mora County Commission; Mike Hamman, chief engineer and CEO at the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District; Aron Balok, superintendent of the Pecos Valley Artesian Conservancy District and secretary and treasurer of the New Mexico chapter of the National Water Resource Association; Gregory Carrasco,a farmer and rancher in Las Cruces who served with the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association; hydrogeologist Stacy Timmons, who is program manager at the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources at New Mexico Tech in Socorro; and Tanya Trujillo, lower basin project director at the Colorado River Sustainability Campaign.

The Governor’s office said the new members represent a diverse set of interests and backgrounds. Carrasco was appointed to bring “an important agricultural perspective to water issues,” according to a press release from the Governor’s Office. Balok was formerly the southeastern regional director of the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau.

Only one commissioner—Becker— is also a tribal member, which is the minimum representation dictated by state law. Becker was formerly an attorney in the Navajo Nation’s Department of Justice water rights unit.

Garcia was previously a member and chair of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Minority Farmers Advisory Committee. Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack appointed her to that position in 2015.

Hamman worked as an area manager at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Albuquerque and was a water administrator at the Jicarilla Apache Nation.

Trujillo served as counselor to the assistant secretary for water and science at the U.S. Department of the Interior. She also served previously as general counsel to the Interstate Stream Commission.

Timmons currently manages the Aquifer Mapping Program, a group of researchers who work to address groundwater quantity and quality questions in New Mexico.

Each of the new commissioners will serve six year terms.

Gov. Lujan Grisham also re-appointed Mark Sanchez as commission chair. Sanchez is executive director of the Albuquerque Bernalillo Water Utility Authority and was first appointed to the ISC by then-Gov. Bill Richardson in 2006.

State law requires the ninth commission member to be the state engineer, which is John D’Antonio. The Office of the State Engineer oversees water rights and applications in New Mexico. D’Antonio was first appointed to the position in 2003 under Gov. Bill Richardson. He left the office in 2011 and was re-appointed to the position by Gov. Lujan Grisham.

RELATED: As NM’s water boss, D’Antonio is back on the job

The governor appointed Rolf Schmidt-Petersen as director of the ISC in late June. Schmidt-Petersen is the former ISC Colorado River Basin bureau chief, and served as New Mexico’s Engineer Adviser to the Rio Grande Compact Commission for seven years.

The ISC also manages funds and has approved money for the New Mexico Central Arizona Project (NM CAP) Entity and the Bureau of Reclamation to plan for a Gila River diversion. While working as the Colorado River Basin bureau chief, Schmidt-Petersen oversaw some of the work on the Gila diversion project. Lujan Grisham promised to scrap the project while campaigning for governor.

Schmidt-Petersen’s first act as director was to postpone the ISC’s scheduled July meeting in favor of a late August meeting, according to the Silver City Daily Press. Schmidt-Petersen proposed holding the meeting Silver City to give commissioners a site visit to the proposed areas for the New Mexico Unit of CAP, including the San Francisco River valley and the Cliff-Gila valleys.

Lujan Grisham released her strategic water plan during her gubernatorial campaign. The plan emphasized “stewardship, sustainability and equity” in water management moving forward, but also pointed to failures in the previous administration’s water management.

“Dysfunction, political infighting, a staffing exodus and budget cuts all have undermined the mission of the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) and the Office of the State Engineer (OSE),” the plan stated. “This has to stop. We need to revitalize these essential water office.”

Lujan Grisham pledged to expand and diversify the staff of the ISC and OSE, restore funding to the two bodies and provide technical support to local governments, acequias, interest groups, industry stakeholders.

“Our water is our most precious natural resource,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “These individuals are tasked with upholding the people’s trust and providing for a sustainable future of that resource.”