Rain clouds loom as sun beams shower down on the Jemez Mountains Saturday as seen heading west toward Los Alamos from the Pojoaque Valley. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
Preparing for Rain Storms
JEMEZ SPRINGS - The recent Thompson Ridge Fire that burned on the Valles Caldera National Preserve, Forest Service, and private lands, changed the watersheds within the burned area.
The wildfire increased the potential for flash flooding and mudflows that could impact several communities, homes, roads, and other infrastructures adjacent to and downstream from the burned area. Although flooding can be a frequent occurrence after a wildfire, the extent of the effects of the Thompson Ridge Fire on the watersheds need to be determined and analyzed.
A Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team is working with the Valles Caldera National Preserve (www.vallescaldera.gov/) and the Forest Service to assess the condition of the watersheds that were burned in the Thompson Ridge wildfire. The BAER assessment team identifies potential emergency threats to critical values-at-risk, and recommends emergency stabilization response actions that are implemented on federal lands to mitigate the emergency.
One of the most effective BAER strategies is interagency coordination with local cooperators who assist affected businesses, homes, and landowners prepare for rain events. The Valles Caldera Trust, Forest Service, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) work together and coordinate with other federal and local agencies, and counties that assist private landowners in preparing for increased run-off and potential flooding.
Federal assistance to private landowners is the primary responsibility of the NRCS through the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program (www.nm.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/ewp/ewp.html). NRCS conducts damage survey reports for the private land adjacent to and downstream from the burned areas. NRCS use these reports, along with the BAER teams assessment report, to develop emergency measures to reduce the impacts from potential increased water and mud flows, and assist private landowners with recommended emergency measures (www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE DOCUMENTS/stelprdb1045263.pdf)
Multiple agencies work with the BAER teams and look at the full scope and scale of the situation to reduce the potential threats to human life and safety, and property; however, BAER emergency stabilization actions on federal lands cannot prevent all of the potential flooding or soil erosion impacts, especially after wildfires change the landscape.
It is important that residents take steps to protect themselves and their property from flooding and mudflows:
- For their safety, communities need to monitor local weather reports and public safety bulletins, local road closures, emergency notifications, weather alerts, follow local county and city advisories, and act accordingly.
- Use a weather radio or smart phone weather app that monitors all hazards alerts issued by the NOAA-National Weather Service (http://www.nws.noaa.gov/nwr/).
- Prepare for rainstorms by being prepared to evacuate if emergency county or city officials determine that flooding and mudflows are expected which could pose an increased threat to life and property.
- Know and be alert to environmental signs of dangerous weather conditions and be prepared to take action that can save lives.
- Understand that all canyons within the central New Mexico area and those associated within the burned areas can produce flash flooding.
- At first sign of a storm, even if its not right over you, the storm may be up-stream from your location, or if you find yourself in a flood, climb to safety (seek higher ground.)
Additional Resources for Preparing for Flash Floods-Mudflows and Interagency Cooperator Information:
The Sandoval County provides public safety and emergency information at:
The Los Alamos County Emergency Management Department provides community preparedness and planning information for flash flood dangers in monsoon season:
The New Mexico Department of Homeland Security & Emergency Management Division of provides information about floods and flood preparation:
The Surface Water Quality Bureau of the New Mexico Environment Department provides information to the public regarding wildfire impacts on surface water quality:
Other Federal Agencies
The US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) Albuquerque District coordinates its Emergency Management program with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and local governments provides engineering services to respond to national and natural disasters in order to minimize damages and help in recovery efforts. Public Law 84-99 enables the Corps to assist state and local authorities in flood fight activities and cost share in the repair of flood protection structures. Public Law 93-288 authorizes FEMA to task the Corps with disaster recovery missions under the Federal Response Plan (www.spa.usace.army.mil/Missions/EmergencyManagement.aspx).
The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, signed into law on July 6, 2012 by President Obama, reauthorizing the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) through Sept. 30, 2017, and increasing access for some residents whose homes could be impacted by flooding from federal land that resulted from wildfires. This law may allow residents in these impacted communities eligible for an exception from the 30-day waiting period usually required for flood insurance coverage. Additional information about NFIP is available through FEMA at www.fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program, or Flood Smart at www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/pages/about/nfip overview.jsp.
Other flood preparedness information is available at: www.ready.gov/floods, and www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/pages/flooding flood risks/ffr overview.jsp.
The USDI Geological Survey (USGS) provides water watch internet tools and flood information for the State of New Mexico: