Work gets done to remove debris from a culvert in Mimbres. Pictured on Feb. 21, 2023. (Photo by Megan Gleason / Source NM)
In a few months, some acequias in southern New Mexico will finally be free of debris. The work to get that done starts today.
During fall 2022, floods that came after the Black Fire in the Gila pushed debris down rivers, blocking up irrigation systems that need to have water flowing for farmers and ranchers to use in the spring.
The New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management teamed up with the Interstate Stream Commission to set aside funds so state workers could help remove all the debris. The agencies allocated over $1.4 million for acequia work.
The N.M. Department of Transportation will be in charge of clean-up operations. John Romero, a director within the department, explained to acequia stewards in Silver City last week how the process will work.
Eleven acequias are eligible for the debris removal in the Mimbres and Cliff areas. That’s just over half of the public acequias in Grant County. There are likely around a dozen or more damaged acequias in other southern counties.
Romero said the department worked with the New Mexico Acequia Association to figure out which systems needed help and would consider helping other ditches, too, if they reach out immediately.
Romero said it took a while to get the funding to do this work. He said the Department of Transportation met with the stewards back in November 2022 to talk about getting the project going.
“Things kind of stalled out since that point,” he said. “But now we're moving in and we should move pretty fast.”
It’ll take six to eight weeks for the state to finish its job, Romero said.
An acequia steward asked if they could start the clean-up work on their own and get reimbursed with these state funds later, if they can’t wait eight weeks for the work to get done. John Romero said no, because these funds are just for the Department of Transportation to do the debris removal.
However, a steward could try to go through a different process to get reimbursed for that work.
Matthew Smith is a senior program manager for the environmental consulting firm High Water Mark LLC. He explained that DHSEM also holds state emergency funds for Grant County, and acequia stewards could apply for those dollars instead. However, it would be a much longer process to get that money back and it would only cover three-quarters of the cost.
“It does take some time,” Smith said. “There is a lot of administrative burden on that part, so a lot of forms that need to be filled out and a lot of due diligence as far as keeping track of costs.”
Romero added that crews will strictly be removing debris and only one site in Cliff will get repairs due to the nature of the work.
This is just a temporary fix. The soil on the Black Fire burn scar will remain tough for years, ranchers said, making it possible for precipitation to flow off of it easily in the future, leading to more flooding.
John Paul Romero is the project consultant for the Department of Transportation who will lead the contractors. Romero said there will be multiple crews — who are local, he said in a response to a question — on the ground so they can get to both the Cliff and Mimbres acequias.
He assured the stewards that the contractors would be working closely with them so the state can prioritize which ditches to work on first.
“I want to include the mayordomos,” he said, “and then during the debris removal, we can make sure that we get to the projects that are the most important.”
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