April 20, 2023

Guv declares a state of emergency over Sandoval County flooding

A photo of Owl Springs Way Bridge on the Jemez Pueblo posted to Facebook on April 20, 2023.

Via Facebook/Pueblo of Jemez

A photo of Owl Springs Way Bridge on the Jemez Pueblo posted to Facebook on April 20, 2023.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a state of emergency in Sandoval County earlier this week to make funds available to address flooding along the Jemez River corridor. 

The executive order declaring the state of emergency allows the county to receive $750,000 in state disaster response funds to help with the flood’s aftermath.

The flooding came as a result of unusually high snowpack from the recent winter storms followed by higher spring temperatures.

The flooding has so far affected the Village of Jemez Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant, the Jemez/Walatowa Pueblo and the Village of San Ysidro.

The Village of Jemez Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant overflowed into the Jemez River on April 12 and the Hidden Valley Bridge failed due to flooding, Sandoval County Manager Wayne Johnson told NM Political Report Wednesday.

Wayne said that only effluent water got into the river.

Effluent water has already been treated in a wastewater treatment facility.

“What was happening is the river- because of the high flooding time or the flood the height of the river at the time which was roughly seven and a half feet- was infiltrating the sewer system and washing into the sewer plant and (the river) basically flooded (the wastewater plant) out,” Johnson said. “It was running at about four times its normal capacity of liquids coming into the sewer, or the waste plant and it ended up burning out at least three of the pumps.”

The Village of Jemez contacted Sandoval County which declared an emergency the following night, Johnson said.

More: FEMA funds available to Navajo Nation after blizzard, flooding

After the wastewater plant failed, the Village of Jemez Springs set up a pumper relay to pump out the wastewater plant and hold the wastewater down, Johnson said.

“They were filling 30 trucks a day because of all the water that was infiltrating the system,” Johnson said. “We had to keep that running to keep the plant from overflowing and going into the river which it did last Wednesday. By the time we were there on Thursday, it was no longer flooding into the river.”

The County had the river tested for contamination by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“EPA has been on site to test the river for E. coli and to make sure it’s safe,” Johnson said. “We do not believe that it ever reached any kind of hazardous levels in the river.”

The County is currently waiting on the EPA’s final analysis.

“We don’t believe that it got to a dangerous level downstream. But it was a concern and that I have to give a lot of credit to the Village of Jemez Springs for getting that tanker relay going early and keeping that level of the plant down so that he didn’t end up with severe contamination.”

The Village of Jemez Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant will need new pumps, including aeration pumps and some other equipment, Johnson said.

Another problem faced was the failure of the Hidden Valley Bridge.

“Hidden Valley Bridge is an older bridge in Sandoval County and when the floodwaters rose, due to an unseasonably warm week last week, it was basically undermined by the water and we had our structural engineers out there looking at it and we determined that it is no longer safe to cross and that means we’ve got to close the road,” Johnson said. 

Workers cut a detour to another bridge while the county replaces Hidden Valley Bridge. The detour affects about 40 residents and will be in effect for about a year, Johnson said.

While these issues were happening, flood waters breached a levee near San Ysidro, which was  quickly sealed by the Bureau of Reclamation, Johnson said.

Flooding from that breach threatened one vacant home. The water from that flood made it to within 10 feet of that home before receding.

The flood waters also threatened a church off State Highway 4, but once the levee was sealed, the water receded and no other structures were reported threatened by the floods, Johnson said.

The flooding caused the Jemez River to cross the Owl Springs Way Bridge.

“It was a new bridge so they’re feeling very confident about the new bridge surviving it,” Johnson said.

The main flooding is over so far due to cooler temperatures slowing the snowmelt.

There is currently about 16 inches of snow on the Jemez Mountains “and that equates to about seven inches of water still on the mountain,” Johnson said. “And with more moderate temperatures, the flow rate decreased and we’re doing okay. We’re able to keep our hands around the problem.”

If temperatures stay seasonable, the flooding will not be a problem.

However, fire season is beginning and the winds are warm and dry, Johnson said.

“The snowpack still melting is keeping us a little safer from the fire side of the equation,” Johnson said. 

There’s 200 percent more snowpack on the Jemez Mountains than normal prior to the floods.