SANTA FE – New Mexico’s former top water official is getting his old job back.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Tuesday that she has appointed John D’Antonio state engineer, saying he has the experience needed to tackle complex issues.
Those issues include drought, the reuse of water used by oil and natural gas producers, and an ongoing lawsuit against neighboring Texas over Rio Grande water rights that’s pending in the U.S. Supreme Court.
“He’s going to get things done,” Lujan Grisham told a news conference outside the Governor’s Office.
D’Antonio previously worked as state engineer under ex-Gov. Bill Richardson from 2003 through 2011, when he stepped down.
In recent years, he has been working on water-related issues in New Mexico and in other states for the Army Corps of Engineers.
D’Antonio told reporters Tuesday that there have been some “backward steps” on water policy in the past eight years, and said he plans to get to work quickly.
“There’s a whole lot of No. 1 priorities, and we have to start right away,” he said.
One immediate challenge could be staffing, because the State Engineer’s Office currently has a 26 percent employee vacancy rate, according to the Governor’s Office.
On the subject of the Rio Grande litigation, D’Antonio said he plans to discuss the case with Attorney General Hector Balderas, whose office has been heading up the state’s legal efforts.
D’Antonio said the state has strong legal claims but suggested a settlement could be preferable to possibly facing dictates from a court-appointed special master.
Meanwhile, Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who took office last month, said she expects D’Antonio to work with other Cabinet secretaries in her administration on renewable energy initiatives, which could include expanding geothermal energy.
She also said the State Engineer’s Office will play a pivotal role in coming up with a new 50-year state water plan that will address the effects of climate change.
The state engineer is a key position in a state that has grappled with serious drought in recent years, with responsibilities that include overseeing all New Mexico’s water supplies.
The job duties also encompass enforcing water rights on rivers that cross state boundaries, including the Rio Grande, the San Juan and the Pecos.