At a community meeting Monday evening in Cliff, residents heard updates on efforts to prevent or mitigate the possibly of catastrophic flooding as a result of the Whitewater-Baldy Fire Complex. This is part two of the report of that meeting.
The last speaker before the question and answer session was Adam Offutt of the Drinking Water Bureau of the state Environment Department. He offered packets of information on disinfecting private water wells and septic systems.
Al Koss, Whitewater-Baldy Burned Area Emergency Response public information officer, said several handouts were available, including on how to prepare pets and animals and a checklist for families for evacuation.
The first question posed was if Gila Valley residents were going to get sandbags, as Glenwood has.
Gilbert Helton, Grant County Emergency Management officer, said the county is in the process of getting sandbags to "this location. Homeland Security will buy bagging machines. If we need them now, we will get them in Glenwood. Yes, we will have them, but it's not clear where and how many."
Resident J.T. Hollimon asked how big a flow is anticipated.
Koss said the modeling for the Gila River is not completed, because the priority was the modeling for the areas to the north that will be most impacted by the severely burned areas.
"We will get the information, but we don't feel there will be a major flood in the area, because there is a much larger area to carry the water," Koss said. "You will see black water, ash and logs. We are working on modeling this area and hope to have it by the end of the week. In Mogollon and on the headwaters of the Gila River, we will do seeding."
Hollimon also asked if anything could be done to protect private property.
Anthony Gutierrez, Grant County planner, said he believes the county can ask for a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to protect property.
"As an individual, you can get a permit," Gutierrez said. "I will help with the permitting with the Corps, because of the state of emergency. We are trying to stay out of the water to prevent having to go back in and do mitigation."
A resident asked what the penalty is to do work without a permit.
"I don't know," Gutierrez said. "I'm trying to stay away from that situation. The waters belong to the U.S. government. If you are in imminent danger, you can do maintenance on your property, but only above the high water mark."
A resident asked where information that the Forest Service will give to residents is available and who it will come from.
Koss said the flow models are on inciweb.org.
Another resident asked about the Christian Center Bridge.
"The Department of Transportation is permitting for removal of vegetation in Duck Creek," Gutierrez replied. "I don't think the Christian Center Bridge is in danger. Duck Creek headwaters were less burned. Otherwise, the estimate is for high to very high flows on the river."
A resident who lives on Duck Creek reported it had built back up with vegetation and debris following a prior cleanup.
Gutierrez said an easement is needed in order to address the issue.
Another resident pointed out that the two fires, this year's Whitewater-Baldy and last year's Miller Fire, would affect the Gila River.
"We are working on keeping the water from going around the bridges," Gutierrez said. "We're trying to do as much as we can as quick as we can."
A resident said he heard the government was worried about the birds and the fish. "Duck Creek is right above here; Rain Creek sits on top of Sacaton. We'll have a major flood. It's horrific in my mind. This community is facing a big flood."
"I feel your frustration," Gutierrez said. "But we don't have, all of us combined, what comes from the federal government."
A resident asked if the monitors that will be put in are to measure precipitation.
"Yes," Koss said. "They will measure how much and the duration of the event. The information will go directly to the National Weather Service and alerts will go out. We will know how much is in the high country. The information will go through the National Weather Service to the Sheriff and then to Reverse 911 (which was discussed in a prior article)."
He said the information is sent through satellites and can come to a personal computer.
A representative from the Santa Teresa National Weather Station said the service will partner with BAER and will monitor in real time, so it can respond immediately to Dispatch. "As soon as we see the threshold met, we will notify Dispatch. At this point, we're only seeing isolated storms. We are not expecting rain for the next week or two. This is the time to do mitigation."
"We issue flash flood warnings," he said. "If you monitor the National Weather Service website, you will get the alert immediately. We have a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio on Jacks Peak. That would be your most immediate alert."
Koss said a weather spotter training would be set up in Glenwood, so people can get the information on their computers.
A resident asked what the impact would be on the water table.
Koss said he would have to get back to her on the question. "But I do know that you have to be careful the flood waters do not contaminate your wells."