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Bill at governor’s desk to require more expertise and diversity for state stream commissioners


Bill at governor’s desk to require more expertise and diversity for state stream commissioners

Mar 16, 2023 | 6:00 am ET
By Megan Gleason
Bill at governor’s desk to require more expertise and diversity for state stream commissioners
The Rio Grande runs through Albuquerque. Pictured in October 2022. (Photo by Megan Gleason / Source NM)

Future New Mexicans who want to become commissioners at the Interstate Stream Commission will have to meet much more advanced and specific qualifications, if Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs legislation that’s waiting on her desk.

The House of Representatives quickly passed Senate Bill 58 with almost no discussion by a 63-6 vote on Tuesday. Six Republican lawmakers voted against the bill’s passage.

Senate Bill 58 would increase the standard requirements people have to meet to act as commissioners at the state agency that oversees water streams in New Mexico.

Lawmakers concerned bill to tighten state water commissioner requirements is too strict

Eight of nine members on the commission are appointed by the governor. This legislation requires that four people are from different conservation districts, no more than five people can be from the same political party and at least one person must be a “member” of a tribal nation or Pueblo in New Mexico.

All commissioners would additionally have to meet higher expertise standards, such as having at least 10 years of experience with state water resources. 

One person on the commission would also have to be a professional hydrogeologist “with expertise in New Mexico ground water resources,” according to the text in the legislation.

The bill, if signed, would also require the commission to bring in a person who works in water resource research or civil environmental engineering at the University of New Mexico or New Mexico State University.

Sponsors say this is to boost diversity on the commission.

A frozen river with greenery on either side of it.
The Rio Puerco in Gallup in December 2022. (Photo by Megan Gleason / Source NM)

Lawmakers in past committee meetings and the Office of State Engineer, which oversees the Interstate Stream Commission, in the bill’s fiscal impact report raised concerns that this move could make it difficult to find enough qualified commissioners.

Maggie Fitzgerald is the spokesperson for the Office of the State Engineer. 

She said on Wednesday that the agency agrees that having “diverse and qualified” commissioners is important, including people with water-related expertise and additional representation from Indigenous communities.

However, she said the state agency still maintains worries about getting people to fill the unpaid gig.

“We do have lingering concerns that the numerous requirements on composition of the Commission as outlined in the bill could make it difficult to find qualified candidates and meet all the requirements,” she said.

Members of the new commission, if this bill is signed into law, would serve staggered, eventual four-year terms.