Blaze left Santa Clara Pueblo vulnerable to floods

Albuquerque, New Mexico (AP) July 2012

A wildfire that burned in New Mexico last year has left the Santa Clara Pueblo susceptible to flooding that could potentially wipe out about half the community of 3,100.

The Albuquerque Journal reports (http://bit.ly/M7lZeh) that the possibility of rain in drought-stricken New Mexico strikes fear in the hearts of people at the pueblo.

The Las Conchas fire last year has left the pueblo susceptible to flooding. That fired burned 156,000 acres and threatened the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the nation’s premier nuclear facility.

Parts of the pueblo were evacuated twice last year as a precaution against the possible onrush of water reaching the community.

“It’s always a danger,” said Santa Clara Pueblo Gov. Walter Dasheno. “As we get more moisture, anything above three-quarters of an inch is a major concern.”

To safeguard the pueblo, last summer more than 3,000 feet of concrete barriers and 30,000 sandbags had been set in place to stem the tide – if one came. Fortunately, retaining ponds held and disaster was averted.

But today, only one of the four ponds is functional. The other three are full of sediment and debris that came down the canyon when flash floods turned Santa Clara Creek into a raging river.

Nearly $31 million in FEMA funding has been allocated to the restoration project, but only about 10 percent of that amount has been made available.

“Without the funding, we can’t do many things,” Dasheno said. “Our concern, like every community, is how quickly we can access the funding.”

The federal funding requires the state and pueblo to match 12 percent of the funds, roughly $3.5 million each. Dasheno said the state money should be available within 10 days. The pueblo’s share is already on hand. The governor said the tribal council had the foresight to tuck away money literally for a rainy day.

“But every time a flood occurs, the costs keep going up,” Dasheno said.

Another flood could wipe out the work that’s been done, he said. They would essentially have to start over, blazing a new road to access the area and beginning again the process of removing additional sediment, trees and rocks.
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