DPU struggles with major flood damage

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County > Los Alamos Canyon hit hard again

By Arin McKenna

Los Alamos County’s Department of Public Utilities infrastructure took the hardest hit during recent flooding. Initial estimates place the damage at nearly $6 million for the department, with an additional $700,000 in repairs for  Public Works.
The most urgent need is for replacement of the Guaje Canyon well field waterline and the road leading to it.
The initial assessment called for $2,250,000 for repairing damage to the road and replacing 1,500 feet of waterline (estimated at $200,000).
Damage was reassessed after Public Works and a subcontractor completed emergency road work last week, providing DPU crews access to the well fields. After meeting with a contractor on Thursday, DPU adjusted their estimate for replacing the waterline upward to $700,000.
Crews discovered that 3,000 feet of pipeline, originally buried under four feet of cover and a roadbed, had been exposed by record floodwaters.
“We’ve got areas where the stream has totally moved on the alignment and just exposed it. And it’s compounded by, these are cast iron pipes with lead joints. So it’s not like rubber, it’s a rigid connection,” said James Alarid, deputy utilities manager for engineering. “Once it moves, it’s lost its water tightness. This was dancing in the water.
“There are four wells that we cannot put in production because they use this pipeline. So our goal is to repair it before winter weather. We have existing wells covering our water supply needs right now. It doesn’t create a water shortage in any way.”
The repairs, including moving the waterline away from the new streambed and burying it under four feet of cover to prevent freezing, must be completed before winter sets in. The wells will be needed in the spring when the demand for irrigation increases, and spring runoff would compound the problems of replacing the waterline.
Massive amounts of dirt and rubble have to be cleared from culverts along the road to the wastewater plant in Pueblo Canyon. The floodplain expanded 200 feet around a low water crossing to the plant.
“So this is a smaller effort, but it’s a critical one because we need to get those culverts working again,” Alarid said. “It’s not critical that it happen immediately, but we want to get it done this winter as well, before spring runoff again. We’ll just see the dirt being deposited all over the road again, if we don’t establish that.”
The roads to the new sewer line being constructed in Pueblo Canyon as part of the Manhattan Loop sewer project were also washed out.
The county issued a change order so the contractor could bring in a bulldozer to clear the road not only to the project site but along the entire main sewer line for Los Alamos, which enters the canyon at the golf course.
Once the road was cleared, DPU crews assessed the main sewer line and found no damage.
Work on the Manhattan Loop sewer line resumed about a week ago, after approximately one week’s delay.
The road to the newly reconstructed Los Alamos Reservoir was severely damaged during the floods. The reservoir itself performed well during the event, although it is now filled with debris. The immediate need is for emergency road repairs in order to provide access to the reservoir. DPU can then assess whether the reservoir needs to be dredged immediately or if it can wait until after next year’s monsoon season.
Two-thirds of the water in the reservoir has been completely displaced by dirt, logs and huge boulders. The remaining third close to the spillway has water at the surface, but crews must determine what is underneath. If there is not enough room available for spring runoff, sand would cover the outlet gate and DPU would be unable to drain the dam.
DPU must also find a location to dispose of the material filling the dam.
The other issue is permanent reconstruction of the roadway to the reservoir. A design team had worked three months on the project and bids had been issued one week before the floods hit. The Board of Public Utilities planned to vote on a recommendation for awarding the contract last week, with council making the final decision at today’s meeting. The item was pulled from the agenda so it can be redesigned and rebid.
“We have to start from scratch,” Alarid said. “We figured only a third of our design was still valid. The lower reaches of the canyon were totally changed from what we had bid.”
The county is still waiting to find out whether it will receive national disaster status (Gov. Susana Martinez has not yet submitted the state’s request to the president). This could be the sixth time Los Alamos Canyon has had national disaster status since the Cerro Grande fire, and the fourth time in three years.
Initial FEMA assessments indicate that all the DPU work will be eligible for at least 75 percent in federal money, and there is a strong likelihood that number could be as high as 85 percent. The state usually provides 12.5 percent of matching funds.