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Public input sought on Aztec flooding issues

Hannah Grover
hgrover@daily-times.com
AECOM water resource engineer Sherrick Campbell takes photos of the Blanco Arroyo Thursday near East Blanco Street in Aztec.

AZTEC – After walking through the Kokopelli and Blanco arroyo areas this week, engineers from AECOM met with residents Thursday to hear about issues they had in the Kokopelli area during a severe storm last August.

The city hired AECOM — a global company with offices in Albuquerque and Phoenix — to perform drainage studies, which will help Aztec officials identify what methods should be taken to mitigate against future flooding.

"There's no solution that has been figured out," City Engineer William Watson said during the public meeting Thursday night.

About a dozen community members and a handful of public officials attended the meeting.

"I know (reoccurring flooding issues have) probably touched everybody in this room personally," said Jim DeAngelo, a hazard mitigation principal at AECOM. "Having water in your house is a horrible thing. Having water in your front yard and driveway is bad, too. It really does impact your life."

The Kokopelli subdivision in east Aztec and its surrounding neighborhoods were heavily impacted by the August storm. Even after the flood waters receded, sediment left behind required a long and difficult cleanup effort.

AECOM is in the process of studying how much water flows through the areas during floods and how quickly it moves. That will give the engineers an idea of what can be done to mitigate the damage resulting from future storms.

Jim DeAngelo, left, and Sherrick Campbell with AECOM talk Thursday along the Blanco Arroyo on East Blanco Street in Aztec.

The meeting Thursday specifically addressed the Kokopelli and Hampton arroyo areas in Aztec, but a future meeting in March will help AECOM officials gather information about Blanco Arroyo. There will also be future meetings about the Kokopelli and Hampton arroyos at the beginning of April and end of May.

Some of the information AECOM is trying to collect includes topography, culverts and information from the August storm such as how much precipitation the city received.

"I've been told it's upwards of four inches in 45 minutes," DeAngelo said, adding that he would like people who have rain gauges to submit that information.

Anyone interested in submitting information can contact the Watson at wwatson@aztecnm.gov.

"We're going to do the science to understand how the water runs today," DeAngelo said. "We're going to look at how that impacts the community, and then we're going to look at potential solutions to solve problems."

Jim DeAngelo, left, a mitigation project leader with AECOM, and Sherrick Campbell, a water resource engineer, walk along the Blanco Arroyo near East Blanco Street in Aztec on Feb. 24.

AECOM will not be building any dams or retention ponds, but will submit suggestions to the city for future projects. DeAngelo said the studies AECOM is conducting are the first step in the process.

Many residents expressed appreciation that the first step is being taken, but at the same time, future storms and potential flooding remain concerns.

"We don't want baby steps, either, because the rains are fixing to come again ... how long is this going to take from start to finish?" asked Ron Cochran, who lives on Sabena Street.

While the AECOM studies are expected to be completed by June, the studies themselves will not provide protection from the floods. Watson said it will be a while before residents start seeing projects like dams and retention ponds.

"We're not talking about a cheap fix here," he said. "This is going to be very expensive, in the millions."

After the meeting, Cochran said he was not satisfied by what he had heard. During the August storm, what looked like a "raging river" deposited sediment and neighbors' possessions in his yard.

"We're afraid to even fix our yard back up because it's going to happen again," he said.

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