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Governor's water adviser to become state engineer | Local News - Energy And Water Development Corp

Governor’s water adviser to become state engineer | Local News


Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has named her water adviser as the new state engineer, a job considered highly important as New Mexico struggles with ongoing droughts amid a changing climate. 

Mike Hamman cq will fill a post that has been vacant since John D’Antonio retired Dec. 31 after publicly criticizing what he said was a lack of staffing and funding necessary for the agency to be effective. 

Hamman is scheduled to step into his new role next week, but first must be confirmed by the state Senate. 

The state engineer oversees the supervision, measurement, appropriation and distribution of all surface and groundwater in New Mexico, including streams and rivers that cross state boundaries. 

For Hamman, this is a quick job change after serving as water adviser in the Governor’s Office only since early January. He said he will remain the governor’s chief water advisor on top of his new duties. 

“All things water is what she wants me to tackle,” Hamman said. “I will be coordinating with the other natural resource agencies to make sure our total water policy is moving in a direction that she wishes it to go. And also to serve New Mexicans in the best way we can.” 

New Mexico faces many challenges with water, including this winter with a La Niña weather pattern that’s forecast to create drier conditions in a state already experiencing warming temperatures and higher evaporation from climate change. 

Hamman said the recent snowstorms could boost the spring runoff, but they won’t solve longer-range water problems. 

“If I was all-powerful, I’d make it snow a lot more,” Hamman said. “The longterm forecast is not looking too promising.” 

Among the immediate priorities is providing relief to growers and other users suffering from depleted river flows, he said.

The state also must address its hefty water debt with Texas in the Rio Grande Compact, Hamman said, referring to the 73-year-old agreement that governs water deliveries for New Mexico, Texas and Colorado. 

There are also ongoing water settlements with tribes that must be taken care of, he said. 

His office will work the Interstate Stream Commission to complete the 50-year water plan later this year, he said. The plan will act as a blueprint for managing water resources throughout the state as a warming climate depletes supply. 

Rolf Schmidt-Petersen, the commission’s director, said it’s good that someone who’s knowledgeable about the state’s water issues is taking on this extremely complex job. 

Hamman knows the policies, regulations and even the acronyms, giving him an advantage over someone from the private sector who might’ve tried to jump into this role, Schmidt-Petersen said. 

“There’s still a learning curve, but he’s quite a ways up that stairway,” Schmidt-Petersen said. 

Hamman previously was the chief engineer and CEO for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District for seven years. There he oversaw irrigation needs on roughly 60,000 acres of farmland as well as drainage, river flood control and infrastructure improvements. 

Prior to that, he worked a toatl of 17 years at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. He also has worked for the Interstate Stream Commission, the city of Santa Fe and the Jicarilla Apache Nation. 

Jason Casuga, the conservancy district’s acting director, said he worked with Hamman for many years in an arena where water management is complicated. 

Having a state engineer with a background in dealing with New Mexico’s unique water challenges is crucial, Casuga said. 

“He’s operating with more knowledge than most people would have,” Casuga said. “They couldn’t have gotten a better candidate to have taken that job.”

At the same time, state leaders are working to shore up the agency’s funding, which Hamman’s predecessor complained was sorely lacking, with insufficient efforts to fill the gaps. 

The governor plans to add 15 staffers using $2 million from the general fund. Also, state Reps. Andrea Romero and Tara Lujan, both Santa Fe Democrats, have proposed a bill that would allocate $12 million to the agency to increase hiring. 

The agency’s vacancy rate has hovered between 20 percent and 30 percent in the past few years, according to the bill’s fiscal impact report. 

In a statement, Lujan Grisham said Hamman is a consummate expert and homegrown professional who’s needed in the climate crisis.  

“In light of a warming climate, protecting our most precious resource and planning for New Mexico’s future is more important than ever,” the governor said. 

 

Hamman said he will take a collaborative approach, working with agencies, experts, users and other stakeholders as he gets a handle on the most pressing tasks that must be done to enhance the state’s waters. 

 

“I’ve had experience in almost all aspects of public service in the water arena in New Mexico,” Hamman said. “I hope to bring that to bear to really make a difference.” 



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