President Obama has nominated Estevan Lopez, Director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, to serve as Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation. The position was previously held by Michael Connor who was confirmed as Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior on February 27.
Lopez has extensive experience in engineering and public service working at Arco Alaska as an Operations Engineer and then a Well Work Supervisor; New Mexico Public Utility Commission as a Public Utility Engineer; Santa Fe County as Deputy Director of the Utilities Division, Director of the Utilities Department, Director of the Land Use and Utilities Department, and County Manager. Since January 2003, he has been Director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (NMISC), where he oversaw the investigation, protection, conservation, planning and development of New Mexico’s water resources and the administration of eight interstate compacts—including the Costilla Creek Compact, Animas-La Plata Project Compact, Canadian River Compact, La Plata River Compact, Pecos River Compact, Rio Grande Compact, the Colorado River Compact, and the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact.
Some of these compacts were hot issues during his tenure. The Pecos Settlement was signed on March 25, 2003 to settle disputed water rights in the basin and establish a means for NMISC to acquire water to meet its compact delivery obligations. Colorado River matters have also been headliners with the signing of the Quantification Settlement Agreement in late 2003, followed by the Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead (“Interim Guidelines”) in 2007 and Minute 319 in 2012. The Rio Grande Compact is currently at issue in Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado.
Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell lauded the nomination.
“Reclamation provides critically important water and power resources to the West, helping local economies and preserving natural resources and ecosystems that face complex challenges, from the impacts of drought and climate change to the preservation of wildlife,” Secretary Jewell said. “With decades of dedicated public service to the people of New Mexico and five years in private industry, Estevan’s professional expertise, water management experience and collaborative approach will be valuable assets as we work to manage, develop and protect water resources for the American people.”
U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D–NM) also voiced his delight with the nomination.
“Estevan López is highly qualified to lead the Bureau of Reclamation. With his experience in public service and the private sector, he brings a wealth of knowledge from many perspectives and a valuable understanding of water issues in New Mexico and the West,” Udall said. “I am very pleased that the president has chosen another New Mexican to serve as Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation.”
Lopez’s nomination was received by the Senate on March 10, 2014 and is currently under consideration in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Since Michael Connor has already vacated the position to serve as Deputy Secretary of the Interior, Lowell Pimley is serving as Acting Commissioner until the Senate confirms a replacement.
Written by Marta Weismann