Friday flood rips up & wets down Rio Arriba – Is it a disaster?

& Well, the good news is that the ducks are happy and the drought is over.

The bad news is that even FEMA may be in our future. FEMA means disaster, right?

If you were staying inside and relying on local tv and daily newspapers around these parts, you probably didn’t know that last Friday (July 19) was a Friday not soon to be forgotten around here. It wasn’t just a gully washer that floats a cow down from a high mesa or deposits a few tires and an old refrigerator in the Rio Chama. Oh no. This one cut a 20-mile swath from La Madera, over the hump to El Rito,  and down to the nice green fields along the valley west of Abiquiu.

It will be awhile before it’s all toted up, but consider: In a matter of minutes, arroyos and a tributary running into the Rio Chama along a 20-mile stretch increased the river’s flow from a relatively shallow trickle of 50 cubic feet per second to a fast-flowing debris-choked flood of more than 3,000 cubic feet per second that in places crept over banks that were to seven to eight feet higher than the riverbed.

A clearer picture of the total damage should emerge in the next few days, after Rio Arriba Country Emergency Manager Mateo DeVargas’s tour of the area on Monday. DeVargas said he will compile information about damages and estimated repair costs — to acequias and other property in drainages of the Ojo Caliente and Chama Rivers.  DeVargas said he would give the county commissioners details for an “emergency declaration” to be presented to the state government as a first step in trying to get some disaster relief funds, either from the state or the federal government. He said “there’s no guarantee of funding, but  preparing the declaration) is a first step.”  (Sunday’s rumor swirling around the valley —  that FEMA was rolling our way — was a bit premature; bureaucracy must be served, you know).

Even without an official proclamation, it was a disaster for several individuals.

In areas under the heaviest of the rain — La Madera and El Rito among them, runoff flooded interiors of several houses and other buildings (see Susan Voss’s detailed description, with pictures, of a scene in La Madera — the ducks were happy, she says, the chickens had headed for higher ground, and “the livingroom is drying nicely.” )

La Madera resident Bill Page, who observes and reports daily precip information for the national volunteer weather info group Cocorahs (you, too, should be a volunteer weather watcher, check ’em out), reports that his rain gauge recorded 1.72 inches of rain in the 45 minutes between 3:25 and 4:10 Friday afternoon. Page, who has been watching precip data for 18 years, says “that’s considerably more than we’ve ever had in that amount of time.”

But, Page adds, he guesses that the heaviest rain probably fell a few miles west of La Madera, along the higher points of Highway 554 east of El Rito. Page estimates that 2-3 inches of rain pounded along 554, damaging sections of the highway and sending massive amounts of water down such arroyos as Canoñcito de la Madera into the Rio Ojo Caliente, flooding highways and, as Susan Voss reported, filling up the parking lot at Ojo Caliente Hot Springs to a level that floated some of the parked cars.

From there the water ran down the Ojo Caliente tributary into the already-bloated Rio Chama.

Portions of Highway 554 between El Rito and La Madera were damaged by the high runoff, telephone and fiberoptic service was out in La Madera for 24 hours, fields were flooded and acequias, broken by the gushing arroyos, were filled with sand.

For a view of some of the storm’s effects in Ojo Caliente, along Highways 111 and 554, and in El Rito, check out Mason Dowling’s video, taken as it was it happening. (See note below.)

But this storm wasn’t done after it had drenched the El Rito and La Madera area. It moved, on a strange path toward the southwest, black clouds boiling with thunder and lightning, and dumping rain in a path headed straight for Los Silvestres, the community stretched out north of the Rio Chama between the Abiquiu Dam and the village of Abiquiu, 20 miles southwest of La Madera. Weather watchers reported that an inch of rain fell in a half hour. One resident told Los Silvestres rancher Pauline Hallock that he hadn’t seen that much rain in 80 years. It poured into arroyos dropping out of the hills north of Highway 84, causing the highway to flood in several locations and carrying tons of debris, silt and rocks into the several large fields and then filling up the Rio Chama.

Water flowing out of Copper Canyon just upstream from Abiquiu wiped out the entrance to 155, filling a 1,000-foot stretch of the road with mud and silt that finally had been cleaned by Sunday. Several arroyos also ran across 155 between Abiquiu and Highway 554. Among the most extensive damage was one section where  much of the road had been washed away, and at Helen Hunt’s Rancho de Abiquiu, where large amounts of mud and silt were deposited in a large parking area, and neighboring residences were surrounded by as much as 30 inches of water. Gerald Frank, who lives near the Hunt ranch, said he was inside when the water hit, and rose on his kitchen floor several inches within a matter of minutes. Outside, the water had risen at least two feet against the door, Frank said, and “I thought about leaving through a window, but decided that it wasn’t going to last long, so I just waited it out. Another family in the area decided to leave the house by crawling out a window.

Further upstream on the Chama, in Los Silvestres, resident Sam Martinez estimated that the Abeyta-Trujillo acequia, which carries irrigation water to fields in that valley — 5 or 6 of them large fields — was broken in several places and filled with silt. One farmer, Martinez said, had only that day cut a field of alfalfa, but had not yet baled it before the field was flooded and the alfalfa was buried under silt and rocks, at some places 2-3 feet deep.

In La Madera, Page said, “extensive damage” was done to a number of acequias, and, along the Rio Chama, several commissioners of the individual irrigation ditches reported large amounts of trash and debris piled up against points of diversion from the river. Rio Chama Acequia Association President Fred Vigil said Sunday that along the stretches of the Rio Chama affected by the massive water surge, “every acequia has some sort of problem”, even though all the lower Chama ditches had been closed as part of a volunteer water-saving program prior to the storm.

& If you’ve got any other info of interest, or news of people who need some help dealing with the results of the storm, lemme know (oldgringo@pobox.com) and it will be added here, or simply add a comment below.

& Yr’s Truly might have missed something, but I saw no references to Friday’s Rio Arriba rain and flooding on the four television stations and in the two daily newspapers — all of which are so fond of telling us how well they cover New Mexico. There was some mention Sunday of the Saturday flooding on Santa Clara Pueblo lands, and KRQE led its website with Crystal Gutierrez’s breathless report that actor Seth McFarland had tweeted something about New Mexico’s weather and locusts. Locusts?

& Wondering who the hell is Seth McFarland, I’m outta here.
———–

Note: A description of Dowling’s video from Tim Viereck: “what you see is coming down 111 from La Madera through La Cueva (they must have been up the Vallecitos fly-fishing), passing the Cañoncito de La Madera on the right (which drains the high ground — where the cable blew out) through a very narrow hard-rock gorge… that must have been wild up in there!), then they cross the bridge and eventually get to the Comanche arroyo crossing which is flooded; they turn around, cross the bridge again, pass the Cañoncito again, and then they’re up on top where it crosses 554, and then they’re cruising through El Rito, past El Farolito and the liquor store (somebody turns in there) and then it ends just as they’re coming up on the corner in front of Synergy.”

Update Saturday 7/27: Mateo DeVargas, Rio Arriba County’s Emergency Manager, reports that the county commissioners quickly approved an emergency declaration which has been passed on to state government for consideration of either state or federal assistance to repair and clean up damage from the July 19 flood. He said he still is collecting information about effects of it and other recent rains throughout the central and southern areas of the county. He asks that residents continue to email him with pics and other info at mdevargas@rio-arriba.org. His phone: 505-747-1941. A full county-wide report from last week’s Rio Grande Sun is at this link:]

Some pictures:

The deluged increased the flow in the Rio Chama at Tierra Azul from 50 cubic feet a second to more than 3,000 cfs, pushing the river above six-foot banks.
The deluge increased the flow in the Rio Chama at Tierra Azul from 50 cubic feet a second to more than 3,000 cfs, pushing the river above six-foot banks.
coppercanyon-at-155
At the intersection of County Road 155 and Highway 84, Copper Canyon delivered tons of mud and debris, blocking the road for at least 1,000 feet. This is the scene after graders had cleared 155.
Runoff from several arroyos blocked CR 155 in several locations. One of the worst spots was here, at the Hunt's El Sueno ranch.
Runoff from several arroyos blocked CR 155 in several locations. One of the worst spots was here, near the Hunt’s El Sueño Rancho de Abiquiu

 

The entrance to El Sueño, after a bulldozer had pushed the mud into a big pile.
The entrance to El Sueño, after a bulldozer had piled up the mud.

 

Road damage at another arroyo crossing CR 155. County officials were adding up estimated repair costs, hoping to get assistance from state or federal emergency funds.
Road damage at another arroyo crossing CR 155. County officials were adding up estimated repair costs, hoping to get assistance from state or federal emergency funds.

 

Rio Arriba County emergency manager Mateo DeVargas (right) surveys damage to a 400-foot stretch of the entrance to the Tierra Azul acequia with acequia Mayordomo Lucas Cordova. Many ditches along the lower Rio Chama were damaged by the high runoff.
Rio Arriba County emergency manager Mateo DeVargas (right) surveys damage to a 400-foot stretch of the entrance to the Tierra Azul acequia with acequia Mayordomo Lucas Cordova. Many ditches along the lower Rio Chama were damaged by the high runoff.
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