Rewind: Aztec continues to dig out after flood

Hannah Grover
Aztec City Engeineer William Watson talks about the chronic flooding problems at the Blanco Arroyo on Dec. 23 in Aztec.

Editor's note: The Daily Times' annual "Rewind" series revisits stories we have reported on over the past year. To read more “Rewind” stories, go to 

AZTEC – Twice in the last couple of years, monsoon rains have flooded the Blanco Arroyo in Aztec, leading to considerable damage to public and private property.

Even before a storm on Aug. 26 flooded houses and turned the high school's parking lot into a pond, officials were surveying the arroyo and had met with residents in January.

As reported in The Daily Times on Jan. 16, City Engineer William Watson told residents in that meeting that the next step to finding a solution to the chronic flooding would be a hydrology study. The need for such a study became even more apparent during the August storm when water once again overflowed the arroyo banks and washed mud and silt over Blanco Street, carrying debris down to the end of the road where the Aztec Museum and Pioneer Village is located.

When the Aug. 26 storm struck Aztec, the Blanco Arroyo spewed flood water onto the road from two locations, Watson said while pointing to the problem culverts on Wednesday.

"This is the epicenter of the flood," he said as he stood by a culvert under North Rio Grande Avenue across from Aztec High School.

He explained that the culvert became filled with sand and silt, and the arroyo overflowed its banks.

"You can still see some of the dirt," he said, pointing to a berm of dirt along North Rio Grande Avenue.

A vehicle drives through a heavily flooded parking lot on the back side of Aztec High School on Aug. 27.

Following the flood, a city public works crew went to the arroyo and widened parts of it near North Rio Grande Avenue. The crew also spent four days clearing out the arroyo.

That culvert and a culvert on East Zia Street were two of the sites of major flooding that filled houses with water and sand.

The flood water rushed down Blanco Street to the Aztec Museum, where it damaged property. While the extent of that damage was not immediately clear to Jimmy Miller, the president of the museum board, he soon realized the flood waters had caused more damage than the floods about two years earlier that caused the museum to shut down for months.

"It was really very devastating for the museum," Miller said.

The flood deposited silt and debris around the Pioneer Village, and left the basements of the main building and the building that houses the San Juan County Historical Society filled with water and mud. But that was not the worst damage.

"It literally wiped out large portions of that retaining wall," Miller said.

The retaining wall at the end of Blanco Street along the sidewalk between the museum and historical society were partially washed away, leaving the foundations of the two buildings exposed.

Miller said he expects similar problems in the future "until we can find some way of slowing down the rampaging water that comes down Blanco Street."

For now, museum officials are waiting to repair the retaining wall and hoping another flood does not happen before that work is done.

"I don't know if the people in Farmington realize how bad that flood was," Miller said.

Miller lives in the Kokopelli subdivision and said some of the people at the bottom of the subdivision were forced to leave their homes due to the flood damage. He said some of the houses off Anasazi Drive are situated lower than the road and were flooded.

"The streets became rivers," he said.

Miller's home did not flood because it is located up higher in the subdivision. But the gravel in the driveway he shares with his neighbor washed away.

Because of the damage done to houses, the city had a meeting with residents of the Kokopelli subdivision. A total of 70 residents showed up to express their concerns about the flooding and ask how the city could prevent future floods. As reported in The Daily Times on Sept. 17, many residents were concerned that the floods would continue to happen.

Jiovona Sandoval, left, Zoe Selph, and Brian Umbarger, all of Aztec, move dirt and debris to a pile Aug. 27 as part of a cleanup effort at the Aztec Museum.

The aforementioned hydrology study has become one of the city's top priorities, and Watson said he hopes it will be started in January. He expects the study to take a couple of months and said it will help the city come up with a plan to mitigate future flooding.

Three hydrology studies will be performed in 2016, including a hydrology study on the Blanco Arroyo. Once the studies are complete, engineers can start working to mitigate flood damage, but Watson said much of the work will be dependent on finances. He predicted millions of dollars in funding will be needed to improve each arroyo.

The city of Aztec distributed red door tags asking people to submit information about the flood damage they experienced and set up an email address for people to report storm damage. Officials hoped to find some way of helping residents pay for the repairs to their property.

William Homka, Aztec's community development director, said residents reported about $1 million in damage from the storm.

The state had set aside $750,000 for flood relief when Gov. Susana Martinez's declared of a state of emergency, but those funds had to be spread across the entire state. That money quickly went to cover damage to public property across a handful of counties, and none was available for private property owners.

Aztec City Engineer William Watson talks about the Aug. 26 flood Wednesday on Creek Side Village Court in Aztec.

Homka said the city is still looking at various options to help residents pay for repairs. That includes applying for grants from private entities, but he does not know how successful the city will be at getting grant money.

"If we're told no, then at least we've tried," Homka said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.