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Ruptured canal wreaks havoc

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By Martin Salazar

As floodwaters spread throughout the Gallinas River corridor on Friday, many were asking why the water wasn’t being channeled to Storrie Lake.

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A portion of the earthen canal that carries floodwaters to Storrie Lake ruptured early Friday, and that has contributed to the flooding that has taken place.

Richard Trujillo, of the State Engineer’s Office, said he spoke to one man in the Los Vigiles area who witnessed the canal carrying massive amounts of water that morning. At about 6:30 or 7 a.m. — about 15 minutes after seeing the raging waters, Trujillo said, the man walked out and saw that the canal was no longer carrying water.

It was about 7:30 a.m. when Rob Larrañaga, the wildlife refuge manager for the Northern New Mexico National Wildlife Complex, realized there was a problem.  

“We came up here to look at the gates and we weren’t seeing the water going under … so we knew it wasn’t making its way out there (to Storrie Lake),” said           Larrañaga, whose agency has a large ownership interest in the Storrie Project Water Users Association.

The raging waters proved too much for part of the canal to handle. The waters sliced open the canal, and water began spilling out behind the village of Los Vigiles and making its way back into the Gallinas River.

Trujillo estimated the rupture to be 40 to 50 feet in width and about 18 feet in height.

Since the breach was discovered, a small army of contractors and state workers have been busy with the Herculean task of fixing the canal, which was designed to carry floodwaters to the Gallinas River. But the torrent has made that task difficult, dashing hopes that the repair could have been completed by Saturday night.

Many blame the breach on a failure to maintain the canal system, noting that it is overgrown.

Gov. Susana Martinez said there will be time for finger pointing later.

“The No.1 thing now is to repair it so we can divert water to Storrie Lake…,” Martinez said while touring flood damage in Las Vegas Saturday night. “There will be plenty of time to figure out how it happened… Sometimes there’s just an awful lot of water in a short period of time (and it can’t handle it).”

Trujillo and Mayor Alfonso Ortiz expressed similar thoughts, chalking up the breach to an act of God.

Trujillo said it may have been gophers or muskrats that weakened the canal wall.

While the canal is out of service until the repair can be completed, the city has been moving five million gallons of water a day into Storrie Lake through its transmission line.

According to Ortiz, the canal had been capable of carrying 1,100 cubic feet per second. Gauges marked the Gallinas river at 1,500 cubic feet per second on Friday, though city officials say the amount is likely higher given that 1,500 CFS is about the top amount the gauge is capable of recording.

Headgates partially closed

Taking a leading role in the repair is Oren Mathews of Rocky Road Gravel. Initially, there was concern from the State Engineer’s Office about whether it was safe to try to close the gates to the canal because the massive amounts of water there. Once officials agreed to allow it, Mathews and his workers closed the gates as much as possible.

Trujillo said Saturday night that they weren’t able to completely close the headgates of the canal because of the amount of water gushing through.

“The force of the water is not allowing them to close it all the way,” he said. Still, progress was made. Heavy machinery was brought in to clear trees and brush from the area and a new road was constructed to allow crews easier access to the site.

Trujillo said they were making progress on the repair “but they’re having a heck of a time because they can’t slow the water down.”

Aiding Rocky Road has been the state Department of Transportation, which has taken dozens, if not hundreds, of Jersey barriers to the site.