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Assessing the Damage - Storrie canal repaired, carrying water to lake

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By Martin Salazar

UPDATE: The repair to the Storrie canal continues to hold as the Storrie Project Water Users Association diverts all the water from the river.

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"We now are taking the entire river," said Robert Quintana, the president of the association. "As of 4 p.m. today we are taking the entire river."

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Las Vegas and San Miguel County finally got a break from the rain on Monday, and that reprieve helped crews working on a breached canal to complete the repair.

Several people stopped at the canal in the Los Vigiles area late Monday afternoon to watch the water that was once again flowing down the flood diversion channel.

“It was a good feeling to see water finally coming into the (Storrie Lake) reservoir,” said Robert Quintana, president of the Storrie Project Water Users Association, which owns the canal. “It’s unfortunate to see four days worth of water going down the river.”

As if the rains weren’t bad enough, there have been three bear sightings along the River Walk in as many days, prompting Las Vegas Police Chief Christian Montaño to shut down the walking trail between Mills and Bridge Street until further notice. The rest of the River Walk hasn’t yet been closed, Montaño said, but Las Vegas Police discourage use of it due to the danger posed by bears.

The local emergency management department, meanwhile, was busy Tuesday answering calls for help from area residents.

“Right now we’re just answering citizens’ requests in the San Geronimo area and Ojitos Frios,” said Dennis English, the emergency manager for Las Vegas and San Miguel County. “A few families might be isolated because of road damage.”

There are reports of damaged bridges in the northern parts of Gallinas Canyon near Johnson Mesa, but English said so far there of been no new calls for assistance in that area.

The San Miguel County Commission was expected to approve a disaster declaration for the county at a special meeting Tuesday afternoon. English said the top priority would getting needed emergency repairs done.

While English was busy fielding calls from area residents, a county public works official and a contract engineer took to the air to survey the damage.

Through a mutual aid agreement, the county was able to use a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office helicopter to conduct the assessment. English noted that the county covers 4,700 square miles  and a helicopter tour is the quickest way to assess the damage from the roughly 6 inches of rain that came down on Las Vegas from last Monday to Sunday.

The rains caused flooding along the Gallinas River Corridor on Friday, tore a gaping hole through the canal that carries flood water to Storrie Lake,  and left several roads and other infrastructure in shambles.

While the water in the Gallinas had receded Friday evening, there was another resurgence on Sunday morning after heavy rains on Saturday night.

The river levels, however, did not rise as much as on Friday as had been feared.

Canal repair holding

Contributing to the flooding that took place was the breach in the Storrie canal near Los Vigiles.

Water spilled out through the rupture onto a field and then back into the already swollen Gallinas River.

Crews worked night and day to repair the canal since the rupture was discovered, although their work was at times hampered by additional rain. The canal was back on line Monday afternoon.

Storrie Project Water Users Association contracted with Oren Mathews of Rocky Road to do the repairs. He was aided by the state Department of Transportation, federal wildlife refuge employees, San Miguel County workers, city staff and others.

Quintana said Tuesday morning that the repair was holding.

“We’ve got people here from the state engineer’s staff evaluating it, and we’re taking water out of the river now,” he said. “It’s not just what’s breaking through the gates. We’re actually taking water. We’re opening gates and starting to take full flow.”

Quintana and English expressed concern that a cloudburst in the Gallinas Canyon might undermine the repair.

“But we’re on site to manage the situation,” Quintana said.

“We need to commend the highway department, the city, everyone who stepped in to help in this situation,” Quintana added. “Fish and Wildlife Service has been here, and they brought some equipment from another location. It’s been quite a team effort.”