Area flood damage updates

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By Arin McKenna

The entire area was affected by the heavy rains of two weeks ago. Here are some updates on stories we have been following as well as some new information.

New Mexico Gas Company pipeline.

The five-foot floods that endangered an exposed NMGC pipeline ("Floods imperil natural gas line," Sept. 15) had a beneficial impact as they receded, depositing a layer of dirt over the exposed pipeline.

NMGC now has five feet of cover over the line, has applied reinforcing sleeves to any area that could potentially become an issue in the future and re-taped the line and placed a rock shield around it.

"Because the pipe is now securely buried, we no longer have plans to build an additional structure," said NMGC Communications Manager Teala Kail.

San Ildefonso Gov. Terry Aguilar also reports that the NNSA/DOE Gage Station 109.9 that caused the erosion over the pipeline is–at least at present–not an issue.

"The monitors and everything are pretty much damaged," Aguilar said. "There is no more 109 gauge."

Whether NNSA/DOE plans to rebuild the monitoring station has not yet been addressed.

The floods resulted in approximately $10,000 in additional damage to San Ildefonso and caused a three-day shutdown of Totavi Phillips 66. Flooding caused substantial damage to the arroyo next to the gas station and washed out the power line feeding the station and its water well.

Los Alamos National Laboratory had to terminate the line. The Pueblo initially brought in generators to bring the station back online, but electricity has since been restored to the station.

"We have worked well with the State, DOE, LANL and LA county in addressing our issues," Aguilar said.

Los Alamos County trail system

Restoration work on county trails following the Las Conchos fire has paid off. Trails suffered little damage and most are operational.

"It's way easier to repair those trails then it was to build them. It's not difficult to bring them back," said Open Space Specialist Craig Martin. "They're just a little dirty right now. Meaning there's a lot of gravel washed onto them."

Martin reported immediately after the floods that nothing was closed, but many repairs were needed, particularly on the Forest Service trails along West Jemez Road. Trails were rerouted around hazardous sections last week.

Water Canyon and Pajarito Canyon took the hardest hit for county trails. Water Canyon Trail has been repaired up to the first meadow, except for one rough stream crossing.

"Beyond that it just needs cleanup. It's not anything that's dangerous," Martin said. "On the county trail network, all damage was minor–just little ruts. There's no washouts, with one exception, and that's the retention pond below the New Mexico Consortium building."

Martin's goal was to create a safe detour around the retention pond last week.

Mountain bikers are advised that the road in Pueblo Canyon is washed out and impassable by bike.

The Forest Service section of the Mitchell Trail is in need of major repair.

"Anyplace that was in the canyon bottom, it's hard to find the trail," Martin said. Martin is currently working with NFS to develop a restoration plan for that trail.

The Santa Fe National Forest also issued an order restricting motor vehicle use in the Caja Del Rio area on Friday.

Valles Caldera National Preserve

Valles Caldera is dealing with impacts from both the Thompson Ridge fire and the Las Conchas fire, particularly to its roads and potable water system.

According to Bob Parmenter, director of science services division, the Thompson Ridge Fire is having particular impact on the potable water system for the historic district.

"We collect water from the La Jara Creek drainage, a perennial stream which has its headwaters up near Redondo Peak. That water is collected in a settling pond and filtered a couple of times and then chlorinated, treated and then distributed via a pressurized pipeline system to the bunkhouse, the cabins, the lodge, the A-frames,"

That system is always susceptible to droughts and freezing, but now it is being impacted by ash and sediment washed down during the storms.

The Valles' operations people have placed pipes to collect surface water away from the settling pond, but the system still fills with sediment during flooding.

Drilling a well to supply groundwater has never been successful in that area, due to the porous nature of the volcanic rock, which allows water to percolate downward.

"We working with engineers to basically come up with alternative solutions in the short term until the La Jara watershed is stabilized once again," Parmenter said.

The issue has already resulted in considerable financial impact due to closures, and is likely to do so for several years until soils are stabilized.

Staff is exploring options for keeping lodging open in the historic district open, including offering "primitive" accommodations. The Valles would provide portable toilets and those renting the structures would have to bring in potable water.

Unimproved roads throughout the Valles have also been damaged repeatedly in recent floods. The Valles relies on contractors or NFS  and BLM crews to clear debris and repair flood damage.

"We've lost access to activities because of the roads multiple times," Parmenter said. "Every big storm that comes in–big meaning more than half an inch of rain in burned watersheds–creates enough of a flood that the flood comes downstream, and sooner or later it's going to cross one of our roads."

Inaccessible roads have curtailed hiking and fishing activities this summer. Roadways that have been improved in recent years are doing well.

"The one bright spot is the headquarters areas, the historic buildings of the Valles Caldera that were so gallantly defended on June 5 by the Granite Mountain Hotshots. They prevented those buildings from burning," Parmenter said.

"The subsequent efforts by Valles Caldera staff, Forest Service, fire crews and our BAER (Burned Area Emergency Response) teams have stabilized the buildings, the 100 year old cabins and these historic buildings at the headquarter areas of the old Baca ranch.

"And so far, even with these magnitude eight-inch rains that came into Redondo Peak, the floods that came out there that were threatening the headquarters area have been diverted, and all those buildings have been protected successfully so far. It's an engineering success story.

"Again, I emphasize 'so far,' but it was a record rain level in September. If it can survive that, I'm more and more confident that it can survive future floods."