Residents and authorities struggle to mitigate flooding after fire | Community






Michael Maes Jr. stands in a 30-foot-deep diversion filled with mud and rock that Maes Jr. dug out to try and capture some of the water and debris before it reaches his property.




Chacon resident Mikayla Maes and her 6-year-old daughter, Analee Muniz, loaded their family’s laundry into an SUV on July 24, taking care not to slip or sink in the thick black mud that now surrounds the house where their multi-generational family lives.

Located in the Chacon Valley under a drainage that directs water through an 8-foot-wide culvert below NM 121, the Maes home is among many in the area affected by post-fire flooding. Monsoon rains brought a mush of ash and earth from the charred mountains above the valley, which the Mora River bisects as it flows south. The acequias, water storage basins and diversions are filled with the material.

On the night of July 23, water from the Maes began to flow from the tap. Their spring-fed domestic water supply was contaminated, forcing them to do their Sunday laundry elsewhere.

“It’s a spring well. It’s been around for 100 years, since my great-great-grandparents,” said Michael Maes, Jr., Mikayla’s father. “It has been great for us. Some guys came to test the waters, and we don’t need a water filtration system. That’s how good water is. Now it will be destroyed.

Michael Maes Sr., Mikayla’s grandfather, brought the family several cases of potable bottled water and a few hundred gallons of non-potable water, which they use for flushing toilets and cleaning. Maes Sr. had been carrying a full tank of oxygen that has helped him breathe since being released from a long hospital stay, when he received intensive care for COVID-19-related pneumonia. Just over two months ago when the Calf Canyon–Hermits Peak Fire burned through NM 518 and into the mountains north of Mora, he lost his cabin in the flames.

Family matriarch Debra Sanchez said the calamity felt like the new normal.

“It’s kind of crazy to think that these poor kids this age suffered from the pandemic and then we evacuated for a month from here because of the fire. We left for a full month not knowing if it was going to be burned, then we came back and now we’re dealing with flooding,” Sanchez said, looking at her granddaughter. “You’ve seen a lot more than most people ever see in a lifetime.”

“Yeah,” Muniz said, staring at what was once a water storage pond that’s now filled with thick, black mud.

“There are just too many people and too much damage; it’s awful,” Sanchez continued, adding that the family applied for disaster assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), but have yet to receive any compensation related to the disaster. ‘Forest fire.

“And everyone is saying to wait for the floods because they’re still dealing with the fire,” she added. “They say you have to claim it separately.”

The New Mexico Department of Homeland Security offers assistance with the disaster relief application process to residents of Mora, Colfax, and San Miguel counties. For guidance on the various apps, including a debris removal app that covers flood debris removal, residents can call 1-800-432-2080 or visit nmdhsem.org/2022-wildfires. At the federal level, the New Mexico congressional delegation sent a letter to President Biden asking FEMA to include flooding impacts in the state’s disaster declaration for counties affected by the wildfires and to extend the duration of the declaration with 100% coverage.

According to a press release from the office of U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, the New Mexico congressional delegation is asking the Biden administration to approve the state’s request to:

• waive 100% of the total eligible costs for the entire period of the disaster;

• extend the duration of New Mexico’s disaster declaration;

• include flood impact coverage in the disaster declaration;

• amend the major disaster declaration to include Los Alamos and Sandoval counties as designated disaster areas

The New Mexico congressional delegation was successful in its previous appeal to FEMA to cover 100% of the costs of emergency protection work and debris removal under the declaration. This request goes further by urging FEMA to cover 100% of total eligible claim costs for the entire period of the disaster.

“Communities in New Mexico affected by the [wildfire] disaster are now facing potentially exacerbated risks of post-fire flooding and debris flows,” the delegation said in the letter. “The same communities that continue to recover from the initial impact of the disaster are now threatened by worsening monsoon rains and facing the potential for even more catastrophic damage.”

On July 26, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that FEMA had granted New Mexico’s request for direct temporary housing assistance for residents displaced by the disaster.

“I will continue to push for an extension of New Mexico’s declaration term to 100% federal cost coverage, as well as the inclusion of flood impacts, to ensure that every family in New Mexico who has been affected by wildfires receives the support it needs,” Lujan Grisham said in a press release.

As the wettest part of the monsoon season approaches, state and federal agencies are closely monitoring roads and drainages in Chacon, Guadalupita, Gallinas, Mineral Hill, Gascon, and Rociada. Dump trucks, plows, excavators, and other heavy equipment currently account for a large percentage of traffic on state and county roads in these areas.

“The flash flooding caused debris to flow over these roads and substructures such as culverts and concrete culverts to become clogged with debris,” said Travis Martinez, public information officer for the New Mexico Department of Transportation. “The department continues to clear structures and remove debris from roads after the flood waters have subsided.

The department has been handing out countless sandbags — which have become a new feature of the landscape around homes and businesses along the NM 518 corridor east of Holman Hill — and is trying to track a long list of roads, ditches and drains that require constant cleaning. It is a task of Sisyphus.

Maes Jr. climbed the hill between his home and NM 121, where he and his neighbors dug a 30-foot-deep diversion to try and capture some of the water and debris before it reached its property. A barber by trade, Maes Jr.’s income has been disrupted by the pandemic, wildfires and, now, flash flooding.

“I’m tired of throwing my own money in there,” he said, pointing to the 30-foot-wide, 30-foot-deep pit he dug, hoping it would prevent catastrophic flooding on his property below. Instead, the diversion filled with rocks, gravel, dirt and ash during a single downpour. Downdraft drainage, as well as an acequia that runs along her property line and a culvert in front of her driveway were completely buried in debris and mud on July 24.

“I used to do the rain dance,” Maes Jr. said. “Now I do the ‘no rain dance.'”

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