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New stream commission key to governor’s water plans

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Gov. Michele Lujan Grisham’s recent move to replace seven Interstate Stream Commission members could change how water issues are handled in New Mexico.

ISC director Rolf Schmidt-Petersen, whom the governor appointed in June, said he was excited about the new group.

“They all bring a tremendous amount of experience,” Schmidt-Petersen said of the appointees, adding that each person has in-depth knowledge about state, federal and tribal water issues.

The new ISC director said the commission’s focus is interstate water compacts and water planning in New Mexico.

“We also do river maintenance, levee projects and acequia projects, and endangered species restoration,” he said.

In Lujan Grisham’s October 2018 water plan, which was released during the gubernatorial campaign, she said the ISC was essential to water issues in the state but needed revitalization.

“Dysfunction, political infighting, a staffing exodus and budget cuts have all undermined the mission of the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) and the Office of the State Engineer (OSE),” the water plan says.

In the July 19 announcement about the new appointees, Lujan Grisham said the new members’ “diverse knowledge and expertise will serve New Mexicans well.” Schmidt-Petersen said the new ISC will contribute to the governor’s 50-year water plan.

Since 2014, the ISC has approved money for the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity and the Bureau of Reclamation to plan for a Gila River diversion. Lujan Grisham campaigned on a promise to terminate the diversion project.

The old commission was scheduled to visit proposed diversion sites in southwest New Mexico in August, but the ISC director said the Gila trip is on hold while the new commission members settle in.

“We need to do orientation in an office setting, but getting out into the field is a really good thing for our projects,” Schmidt-Petersen said. “I want these members to see different parts of the state and meet the water users there.”

The governor reappointed Mark Sanchez as ISC chairman. State law requires the ninth commission member to be the state engineer, currently John D’Antonio. The new members – listed below with some information provided by the Governor’s Office – will serve six-year terms.

• Aron Balok is the superintendent of the Pecos Valley Artesian Conservancy District in Roswell. Balok was the southeastern regional director of the state Farm and Livestock Bureau and is a member of the Groundwater Management Districts Association and the National Water Resource Association.

• Bidtah Becker is the former executive director and assistant attorney general of the Navajo Nation Division of Natural Resources. She is a trustee at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

• Greg Carrasco is a farmer and rancher in Las Cruces who has served with the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, New Mexico State University Foundation and the Diocese of Las Cruces Foundation.

• Paula Garcia is the executive director of the New Mexico Acequia Association and the former president of the New Mexico Association of Counties.

• Mike Hamman is the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District’s chief engineer and CEO. Hamman has also been the area manager for the Bureau of Reclamation, an ISC regional water planner, Santa Fe water utility director and the Jicarilla Apache Nation water administrator.

• Stacy Timmons is a hydrogeologist and program manager at New Mexico Tech’s Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources. She manages the Aquifer Mapping Program research group, which addresses groundwater data gaps in New Mexico.

• Tanya Trujillo is the lower basin project director for the Colorado River Sustainability Campaign. She was executive director of the Colorado River Board of California, worked with the Interior Department and served as general counsel to the ISC.

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