New Mexico’s top water official may be on the way out.
Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration this week formed a search team to fill the Office of State Engineer, a job currently held on an interim basis by Richardson administration holdover John D’Antonio.
D’Antonio will be considered as a candidate for the job on a permanent basis if he is interested, said Las Cruces attorney Steve Hernandez, who heads the search team. D’Antonio could not be reached for comment Friday. “He obviously can apply for the position,” Hernandez said in a telephone interview.
“The Governor appreciates the service of our current State Engineer, John D’Antonio, and his continuance as State Engineer will be given very thorough consideration; no decision has been made to replace Mr. D’Antonio, but the Governor wants to ensure that a wide range of options are considered before selecting a permanent State Engineer,” Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell said in a statement.
The governor’s transition team had interviewed a number of candidates for the top water job before taking office late last year, but put the selection “on the back burner” because of the state budget and other more pressing issues, Hernandez said.
The move comes amid tension between D’Antonio’s office and water users in Doña Ana County, where Martinez worked as district attorney before taking office. D’Antonio recently turned down the Elephant Butte Irrigation District’s request for extra water stored in a state water savings bank in Elephant Butte Reservoir, leading to speculation that the start of the job search was being done in retaliation.
The savings account provides water that can be used to meet New Mexico’s obligations in dry years to deliver Rio Grande water to Texas.
The Governor’s Office said the start of a search for state engineer candidates was unrelated to the Elephant Butte Irrigation District situation. Hernandez, who represents the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, noted that the district, which in the past had criticized D’Antonio for not releasing the water, publicly acknowledged a week ago that D’Antonio had made the right decision.
In a July 8 letter to water regulators, EBID Manager Gary Esslinger acknowledged that there was not enough water in Elephant Butte to give irrigators the water they had requested without creating a risk of shortfalls next year.
No timeline was set for a decision.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal