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« My Ten Cents: Lake Abert Redux Revisited - Who Cares? Lots? Well, Maybe a Few | Main | Elaine J. Hanford's Bulletin Boards: 1) Geoscience; 2) Environmental Science; 3) Coastal Zone Management - 7 February 2022 »

Sunday, 06 February 2022


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Denise Fort

Just for the record:

By Denise Fort and Sally Rodgers Nov 20, 2021

State Engineer John D’Antonio has resigned, leaving the job vacant on Jan. 1. With the governor just back from Glasgow, Scotland, with a renewed focus on combating climate change, we believe this vacancy provides an opportunity for our state to modernize water management.

Unfortunately, there is a major obstacle in our current state law that inhibits the governor from considering a deep bench of talented candidates for the state engineer position.

State law limits this position to professional engineers, greatly narrowing the pool of talented professionals in water management. This may have been sufficient in the early days of our state and before we understood the threats of climate change. Now we know our state is not just suffering from extended drought but faces long-term aridification, which means hotter temperatures and more evaporation, as well as less precipitation. We need a 21st century water manager who can help us navigate an uncertain future.

The job is not well known among everyday New Mexicans, although, along with the Interstate Stream Commission, the Office of the State Engineer has authority over the waters of New Mexico and its supervision, measurement, appropriation and distribution, requiring coordination among a vast array of stakeholders. There are multiple federal, state and tribal agencies, as well as water-rights holders, recreationists, conservationists and concerned citizens who all have some voice in the management of water.

Meeting the challenges of aridification will require a thorough rethinking of how the state manages its waters. Climate change has put us into a severe drought, which scientists tell us is just an indication of what is to come. We need to integrate water management to address water quality, providing water for healthy rivers, ensuring groundwater depletions are controlled, along with addressing major litigation, ongoing adjudications, water transfers and all of the other business of the office.

The skills required to manage this portfolio are many, including management, planning, law, economics, hydrology and, yes, engineering. It makes no sense to restrict this management position to those with an engineering degree. The good news is there exists a simple legislative “fix” to this problem, and with the upcoming legislative session around the corner, now is the time for our state to modernize the job qualifications. Several attempts have been made in the last 40 years to pass such legislation, but these previous attempts always died because of entrenched special interests who prefer the status quo. With this position vacant — and therefore the reform is not seen as a referendum on any particular state engineer — now is the moment to change course for our state’s future water management.

We request Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham add a bill on her “call” for the 2022 short session that revises NMSA §72-2-1 to include all other professions, such as scientists, hydrologists, water planners and attorneys. Let’s find the best person for the job, because it is indeed a challenging one.

Denise Fort is a professor emerita at the University of New Mexico School of Law and former director of UNM’s Water Resources Program. Sally Rodgers served as natural resources and energy adviser to Gov. Toney Anaya, environmental ombudsman to Gov. Bill Richardson and founded Conservation Voters New Mexico.


The announcement of these views from Mr. Verhines & Dr. Thomson are a sucker-punch to students who are passionate about water but who are not engineers, and thought we had our faculty’s support.

The WRP has been a special place for those of us who fall in the above demographic. It’s tough to realize that its new administration doesn’t believe in our capability to make sound decisions as professionals – to realize they believe engineers can “learn” ethics, but others cannot.

The OSE qualification debate is one thing. But it’s disheartening to have it framed so specifically as an ethics issue from Mr. Verhines and Dr. Thomson. It goes against the spirit of the program, feels exclusionary, and makes it harder to justify the $20,000 and three years’ worth of 60-hour work weeks I’ve put in to get through the program – now to be told my ethics aren’t worthy of a management position simply because I don’t have this specific license.

The WRP is far and away the best education I’ve ever received. I’ve felt strongly about water issues since I was a kid, and grew up struggling to find how I could contribute since I wasn’t aiming to be a lawyer or engineer – this program showed me that how.

I hope it can continue to foster that inclusive and encouraging community I’ve been lucky enough to experience here.

Right now though, I’m discouraged and am unsure how this disconnect between the program’s mission and its new leadership’s ethos can be reconciled.

UNM Water Resources Student

As a student in the UNM WRP, I feel it shows Mr. Verhines has a lack of faith in the students of his own program. Is directing this program just a feather in your hat? Have you actually taken the time to know your students? Do you believe we can contribute to water issues, but are not ethical enough to handle THE water issues? If it was a technical reason why only engineers could handle this job, sure- fine. But time again, I've heard "the oath that engineers take" to be enough reason for superior qualification. If its the power of the mighty all binding oath, then require an oath for this position. If you have a problem with THIS bill, help re-write it. But there are plenty of educated, technical, non-engineering professionals with hydrologic expertise and ethical compasses that might include disenfranchised stakeholders while providing policy solutions. I thought we were going to begin to be inclusive in our policy-making? Include native water users, non-ag users, and allow the environment and nature to be water users again? If NM’s water issues only required engineering solutions, then wouldn’t they be solved? Should engineers be the gate keepers to the multidisciplinary expertise required of water problem-solving? Its been a stance that MANY students in my program take. If you think engineers are the only qualified professionals for managing New Mexico’s water decisions, I respect your opinion. But should this be your opinion, you should not be directing a non-engineering water professional program. Thank you for making your post and having faith in the capabilities of UNM WRP students.

EJ Hanford, PhD.

Isn't it amazing that when looking to make politically appointments, being a knowledgeable and highly qualified technical person is the most important consideration?

William M. Turner

I think I agree with Dr. Mike, hydrologists and geologists who have years and years of experience in the water sphere should be considered. I am not asking for the job; but, I have a B.S. in Geology, M.S. in Geology and hydrolgeology, and a Ph.D in Geology and hydrology with enough credits to gain a degree in Hyrdogeochemistry. I have been in 80 law suits as an expert in hydrogeology, Plaintiff and Defendant. I am a qualified water rights expert by federal and state administrative agencies and court. I have carried cases all the way to SCOTUS. I have worked intimately with 10 State Engineers and their staffs for 50 years. I am a consulting hydrologist and a certified water rights examiner. I created Governor Johnson's Blue Ribbon Task Force on Water and was the New Mexico Natural Resource Trustee. I am a plenary member of International Society for Geoethics. I an licensed to practice in none state and they al require ethics training. I am also a licensed escrow agent and am audited every year. I know every water issue in the State and I know the actors. I have worked on the largest earth fill dam in the world and others. I would not put up with the crooked practices of the attorneys in the State Engineer Office and at present they run the office. OSE employees are great people saddled with overwork and underfunded.

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