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Informational meeting on flooding preparedness held in Mimbres

Grant County Planner Anthony Gutierrez led a meeting in Mimbres at the Roundup Lodge on July 10, to ask residents to be prepared for flooding as a result of the Silver Fire.

Gutierrez said he had done a study of the past 100 years of floods and found that Chamisa Road was the most often impacted, as well as the Faywood area and Gallinas Creek.

He warned residents to be prepared for flooding.


"This is an informational type meeting," Gutierrez said. "There is a potential for debris to come down with floodwaters. The flood plain in the area is about 100-feet wide, but the bridges are narrow, damming up the spread of the water."

He said, to participate in the National Flood Insurance Plan, one must purchase insurance at least 30 days ahead of the time one is flooded. He encouraged those who might be impacted to purchase the insurance as soon as possible. He did say than in case of a wildland fire, the government was working to waive the 30-day waiting period, but it was on a case-by-case basis.

Gutierrez said permitting for necessary preparations were being done through the Grant County attorney's office, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the New Mexico Environment Department.  He said evaluations of permits would be done next week for watershed protection. "It will take 10 days to complete the work. For the other 230 working days a year, it will be much harder to get a permit."

Johnny Reed, representing the Grant Soil and Water Conservation District, said the agency, along with the National Resource Conservation Service and Grant County, was working on early detection notices from the National Weather Service.

Mike Natharius of the Forest Service Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) Team explained how the group was assessing and how they planned to mitigate the severity of the fire, as well as the values at risk, such as natural and cultural resources, taking into account public safety.

"There will be some issues downstream from the fire," Natharius said. "Values at risk include life and property. We will be doing treatments on Forest Service land. We have been approved for funding for the treatments in the high severity burned areas. We will do aerial seeding of annual barley and native seeds on the slopes. The barley grows quickly and will help erosion and sedimentation. The ash is now flushing through the system."

He, too, warned downstream residents to be prepared. The first areas to be seeded would be the Animas Creek headwaters and the southern areas of the fire, within the next two weeks. The northern burned areas would be treated later.

Natharius said the former Forest Service camp in the Mimbres was being graded and would be seeded with native grasses.

John Fossett of the National Weather Service office near El Paso said his office issues flood warnings, but has a concern about how people can get the message. "Half an inch of rain in one hour can create flooding, depending on the terrain. The monsoons bring in moisture from lower latitudes."

He warned that Sunday night into Monday would bring a weather disturbance to the area, which could impact those downstream from the fire. The overall rain scenario for the Sunday to Monday event is predicted to be a bulls-eye on Arizona and western New Mexico, with heavy rain, bringing above normal precipitation.

Fossett said southeastern Arizona had received, on July 9, 3-5 inches of rain with golf ball-sized hail.

County Emergency Manager Gilbert Helton said reverse notification could be done by Dispatch. He said people could sign up for Code Red at www.grantcountynm.com by registering phones and emails for alerts.

(Editor's Note: readers can also sign up for Code Red by choosing the link at the top right of the front page of www.grantcountybeat.com)

He talked about the Emergency Watershed Protection program, which is another disaster program.

A Forest Service representative addressed the issue of the chemicals in the retardant used to slow the fires.

"It is a water and phosphate compound," the ranger said. "A lot more retardant was used at Haystack."

To a question about the effect of black water on wildlife and cattle, he said there would be no negative consequences. "It can affect fish, but chubs seem to survive in the side streams."

Gutierrez discussed ash barriers for shallow water wells that have reduced flow or have gone dry. He said small streambeds are also more impacted by the ash.

One of the owners of the La Esperanza Winery and vineyard on lower Gallinas Creek said the winery had been impacted by a lack of visitors due to the fire, but that he was mostly worried about four of his neighbors and how they might be impacted by flooding.

Gutierrez encouraged him to call the Grant County Road Department to get work orders to repair the road. "If it's an emergency into or out of the area, call Dispatch at 911."

The crossing problems of the roads to McKnight and Powderhorn were issues with ashes a foot-and-a-half deep.

Gutierrez said the county has issues with the state no-donation clause, so it cannot directly help residents, but in case of an emergency, vehicles such as ambulances and fire trucks need to have access and can help.

Those with private property issues related to the fire and/or flooding should contact the federal Farm Service Agency. Public land issues can be dealt with by the NRCS.  "There is also a good publication from the Environment Department," Gutierrez said.

To a question about water for irrigation, he pointed out that small quantities of ash can offer some benefits to crops. "But the heavy ash will seal your soil. In that event, contact the FSA on an emergency basis.  The chemical properties of ash will normalize overall, but it will take time."

A representative of the NRCS said the agency would be working on best practices management.

An Army Corps of Engineers representative also talked about flood preparedness, including sandbag training. He gave out handouts on sandbags and well-water protection, and encouraged residents to contact Helton for training. "You can obtain a large quantity of sandbags from Gilbert," he said. "The BAER Team and NRCS will be taking their studies further to mitigate the fire and the possible effects downstream."

He spoke of the Dixon Apple Orchard Flood, which happened several years ago in northern New Mexico and wiped out the orchard and many of the buildings with a wall of water. "Don't underestimate the power of a flood," he warned. "Burn scars multiply flood plains exponentially. Experts watch every burn for at least three years after the fire."

Phone numbers given out to the residents included 575-574-0007 for Gutierrez; 575-574-0065 for Helton; and 575-574-0066 for Alicia Estrada in the Planning Department at the county.

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