SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez moved quickly Friday to ensure the Interstate Stream Commission can still function, appointing two new members to the influential New Mexico water policy agency after three previous members had resigned abruptly earlier this week.
The two-term Republican governor appointed Carrie Hollifield of Roswell and Samuel Gonzales of Aztec to the commission, which before the appointments had just four active members out of nine board positions.
That would have left the commission essentially unable to conduct official business, according to an open-government group.
“If they don’t have five seats filled, they don’t have a quorum,” said Greg Williams, the president of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, before Friday’s appointments were announced.
The Interstate Stream Commission already had two vacancies before commissioners Jim Dunlap of Farmington, James Wilcox of Carlsbad and Caleb Chandler of Clovis submitted resignation letters to Martinez earlier this week.
In his resignation letter, Dunlap expressed concern about recent staff turnover and friction with State Engineer Tom Blaine, a former state Environment Department official who was appointed to the post by Martinez in November 2014. Per state law, Blaine also serves as a commission member.
The two newly appointed members both have experience with water issues.
Hollifield, an active member of the Chaves County Federated Republican Women group, co-owns and manages the cattle and crops at Brown Brothers Ranch in Roswell and is a member of the Chaves County Soil and Water Conservation District.
Gonzales has long been involved in northern New Mexico acequia oversight. He served as chairman of the MB Community Ditch Association from 2001 to 2005.
The Interstate Stream Commission has broad authority under New Mexico law to undertake water-related projects and investigate water supply issues. The commission also has the power to negotiate with other states to settle interstate stream disputes.
But the commission has faced turbulence in recent years, including ongoing opposition to a multimillion-dollar Gila River diversion project for farm and municipal use in southwestern New Mexico.
The agency’s former director accused the Interstate Stream Commission in 2014 of repeatedly violating the state’s Open Meetings Act in its deliberations over the plan, and legislators in recent years have proposed bills that would have placed additional reporting and transparency requirements on the ISC.
Journal staff writer Maggie Shepard contributed to this report.