New Mexico just received an important wake-up call.

State Engineer John D’Antonio has announced he will retire effective Dec. 31 from his position as New Mexico’s top water official. The reasoning behind his departure should concern all who care about the state’s most precious resource.

D’Antonio says his office lacks the necessary funding and staffing to perform the work of the Office of the State Engineer.

He should know. D’Antonio served as state engineer from 2003-11 under then-Gov. Bill Richardson.

With a staff of 312, he was able to get his work done. Today, there are some 69 fewer positions in the office while demands are increasing.

The Office of the State Engineer is being asked to put together a 50-year water plan and manage high-profile lawsuits, including one before the U.S. Supreme Court pitting Texas against New Mexico. That’s on top of dealing with scarcity of water because of lingering drought and warmer temperatures and doing the day-to-day work of the office, whether protecting senior water rights or dealing with questions from the public.

Perhaps the last straw came for D’Antonio came when the agency was asked to submit a flat budget for the 2022 legislative session — this, despite $1.4 billion in “new” money for the next fiscal year.

It’s not as if D’Antonio had not been asking for increased funding. Ignored once again, retirement must have looked attractive.

Like so many state agencies, the Office of the State Engineer had its staffing cut precipitously under former Gov. Susana Martinez. Replenishing staff during a labor shortage and pandemic was never going to be easy, but without hefty budget increases, it’s likely impossible. A spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham administration did point out the office’s budget has increased 17 percent since the governor took over. Obviously, that’s not adequate, at least not in the eyes of an expert.

When someone with the respect and experience of D’Antonio says he doesn’t have the money or the people to do the work correctly, it’s essential to listen. Even given the necessity of balancing competing interests in a state with many needs, protecting water and allocating water rights must be a top priority.

In 2022, the Legislature needs to provide enough funding to rebuild the office’s staff, complete the 50-year water plan and replenish the Water Trust Fund.

That constitutionally protected permanent fund for the state of New Mexico, created in 2006, distributes some $4 million each year to the state’s Water Trust Board for water infrastructure projects. Without additional capital, the Water Trust Fund could run dry in the next 20 years, according to the State Investment Council.

At a recent Water and Natural Resources Committee meeting last month, D’Antonio told legislators the water plan is in Phase 3, with the agency partnering with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete the work.

Committee chairwoman State Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, said her group has endorsed some $12 million in spending to staff the office fully. She also plans to introduce legislation to replenish the Water Trust Fund with at least $50 million.

With D’Antonio leaving, the governor now must pay attention to finding an able and skilled replacement — someone who knows water issues but who also can recruit, hire and supervise while managing competing priorities.

D’Antonio’s resignation is a warning that all is not well at the Office of the State Engineer. Ignore it, and New Mexico will pay a price.

(11) comments

Sigmund Silber

Some have mentioned the dispute with Texas. A good analysis of the history of the creation of the Rio Grande Compact which is the supply channel to the Rio Grande Project is provided in a document which was instrumental in the creation of the Rio Grande Compact. It was written by Ottamar Hamele, special attorney for the Reclamation Service. It's existence was pretty much unknown until a year or so ago. It is a long document and I summarized it in an article that I wrote which some might find interesting. Here is the link. https://econintersect.com/pages/contributors/contributor.php/post/202011302252

James Boyd

De Antonio was ineffective. When I first met him he knew nothing about the 1896 Rio Grande Embargo. Very few know what's going on in the Lower Rio Grande Adjudication. SS104 what rights the US has to public claims of the Rio Grande and Elephant Butte, has been stayed for years, because we clanints before the US have proved the US seized illegally the Rio Grande project that was being built. Ever since it has been a shell game by the OSE and USBR who have taken the water rights of S.NM for Alb and Sf by surrendering to Texas Nms sovereign water rights. The OSE is a house of corruption and has never protected existing water rights, and shifflted though settlents for developers and city and Texas more water. The current Judge Wechsler conceals all this corruption of the fraud by the US government in his court so his son can argue in Texas case, placing in liability Nms farmers to Texas. The OSE has divided the state at Elephant Butte to become the water cazar, and has failed in his role to protect existing right. Good riddance De Antonio you were always about politics and not prior Nm sovereign rights as you always worked for the feds where you will go back to a cush job. No one knows what's going on because the newspapers refuse to cover the story.

Matthew Rawlings

And right when the cannabis, oil and gas, farming, housing, and other competing industries, including government, are trying to shuffle around water rights so they can do business efficiently in NM. If there were ever an agency to increase funding for right now it is the State Engineers Office. I know because I work with them everyday. A little extra pay would help too to keep morale up.

John Garcia

Sounds like it is time for a new director for that state agency. How can the city of santa fe be undergoing construction boom? As a resident of SF, I am worried about our very limited water supply and quality.

Mike Johnson

This person was the chief political engineer of the water thefts from parciantes and citizens during the egregious and unconstitutional seizure of water rights for Aamodt, and others. Good riddance, he will not be missed.

Chris Mechels

This ties directly to todays' other piece on the Governor's "incompetence". As the Chief Executive, the Governor's job is to "execute", and this is through her Cabinet, such as the State Engineer. Michelle seems to be ignorant of that fact, and her Cabinet, as a result, is a debris field. Her Staff is more of the same; campaign operatives, cronies, contributors; not a manager in the lot. The solution is, no surprise, a new Governor. DO NOT re-elect this incompetent.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup]Well said, and this guy was more a political operative than an engineer.

Francisco Carbajal

New Mexico and the State of Texas fighting over the Rio Grande Water-Rights is no different on what will escalate to another 1973 Oil Crisis. Back in the day, the oil crisis created a gas shortage and every one paid for it. Here in New Mexico, the precious ground and surface water has become a serious commodity for survival in many New Mexico traditional and historical communities (i.e., villages, pueblos, NM Land Grants, etc.). Frankly, the State of Texas has become dependent upon New Mexico's precious water resources. It is the State of Texas that is greedy and creating a water shortage beyond the climate change that is part of the problem for New Mexico. The Governor of our state should stop playing russian roulette with Texas and fix our dysfunctional fiscal management and administration of the New Mexico State Engineer's Office, period! What is she waiting for?

Richard Reinders

Dealing with the water law suits with Texas should take priority other wise New Mexico water ways just become a pipe for Texas and we could lose more and more water. The City of Santa Fe should be paying attention, because the beneficial use of the water rights they hold and the ones they get from developer will be like Confederate currency with nothing to back them up.

Charles W Rodriguez

I suspect that understaffing and under funding isn't an oversight. More than likely, it's an intentional tactic to ignore water issues that might keep the state from further commercial development.

Khal Spencer

Bingo.

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