Disaster declaration paves way for funds

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Floods > Last week’s rains caused major damage to infrastructure

By The Staff

Los Alamos County Administrator Harry Burgess issued a disaster emergency declaration Thursday afternoon in the wake of last week’s storm events, which delivered more than seven inches of rainfall to the area — surpassing storm specifications for 100-year flood events.


“In the week following the major storms that impacted Los Alamos County — especially storms that came through Los Alamos the morning of Friday, Sept. 13 — our crews have had the opportunity to sweep through the community and our surrounding canyons to check for damage to infrastructure. The effects of the storm have proven to be more extensive than first realized, which is the reason for issuance of the declaration a week after the storms have passed. We have infrastructure that will require significant and costly repairs,” Burgess said.

On Tuesday afternoon, county officials submitted reports to FEMA and the State of New Mexico with descriptions and photos that outlined visible damage to canyon-bottom utility lines, retaining walls, retention ponds, fencing, culverts and roadway storm drain inlets. In addition, the Los Alamos Reservoir located above western Los Alamos received massive storm-water run-off containing large logs and debris.

Estimates at the time for repairs to flood damage were more than $5 million.

The reservoir sits below the burn scar from the 2011 Las Conchas wildfire. Reconstruction of the Los Alamos Canyon Dam was completed just last May. Utilities Manager John Arrowsmith said that “the dam performed as designed, containing debris and attenuating some of the flood flow. Before the reservoir can be put to use for recreation purposes and non-potable water supply, it will need to be dredged.”

Burgess said Thursday that his decision to issue the emergency declaration was made after touring the community, reviewing flood damage reports and discussing options with the County’s Public Works and Utilities’ departments to determine a path forward.

“We just heard today that FEMA’s damage assessment team will visit Los Alamos on Friday to witness first-hand the damage that we have sustained in our community, and we hope they will then take action,” he said, “We have quite a bit of work that lies ahead of us in the coming weeks and months to recover, and no indication just yet of the possibility of emergency funds, which would enable us to chart a timeline for repairs.”

County crews and on-call contractors shifted resources from emergency flood response to post-flood recovery operations soon after the storms passed. The county has offered 10,000 sandbags and made free sand available to residents, and more than 400 tons of debris have been taken to the local Eco Station in the last five days.

Much of the debris removal and mop-up operations this week have included line stabilization, culvert and storm drain inlet clean-outs or removal of mud and rocks from city streets.

The county has coordinated with Governor Terry Aguilar to gain access through San Ildefonso Pueblo lands so that county road crews could enter the eastern portion of Guaje Canyon to repair a broken water line associated with the Guaje well field.

Until this water line is repaired, four out of five Guaje wells are inoperable. These wells, combined with the Otowi wells, are the primary source of potable water for the Los Alamos town site.

According to county officials, the other operating wells are able to provide adequate water to the town site until repairs are made. Additionally, crews are repairing roads and installing new culverts in Guaje Canyon to keep the road passable if future flooding occurs.

Roadwork and culvert installation will proceed through the canyon across San Ildefonso Pueblo lands. This road additionally serves as an emergency evacuation route for the county.

Special job cost accounts have been set up to capture costs that will become part of the county’s final claim for damages.