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Flood official: Berm work could begin next week

The Roswell Walker Post Office, 5904 S. Main, is surrounded by water Thursday. The Postal Service has closed the branch office until further notice due to the flooding. Customers with post office boxes at the branch can pick up their mail at the main Roswell Post Office, 415 N. Pennsylvania. (Juno Ogle Photo)

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The head of the Chaves County Flood Commission said that, barring further storms, crews should be able to begin work next week to shore up the broken berm that has released flood waters into south Roswell.

Dick Smith is superintendent of the commission, overseeing the flood control project built west of Roswell in 1962.

“I can’t even get out there until the water goes down to assess the damage to the infrastructure,” he said, adding that water from an ungated dam continues to flow to the berm area.

He said that he expects to be able to get to the berm, which is about 1.25 miles west of Roswell, in a day or two if no additional rainstorms occur.

“But it is going to be awful muddy,” he said. “I have to have heavy equipment in there as quick as it quits running. If I get heavy equipment up there now, it is so muddy that I can’t work.”

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Smith said that he intends to start filling in the broken berm next week if conditions will allow.

He said the water from the northern Diamond A dam has been gated for a couple of days, so water from that structure is no longer running into the Hondo River. But the ungated southern dam, the Rocky Dam, is still pouring water into the river. Both those dams are managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“It may take another day or so for it to run down,” he said. “We don’t have any way to control the water from Rocky Dam.”

After the berm failed, water flooded into south Roswell, most especially the Roswell Air Center area. While reports of drainage problems in other areas of Roswell have occurred, Smith said that the berm break only affected the southern region of the city.

Smith said that the Air Center area was “hit hard,” with residences and streets flooded. Water had largely receded by Thursday, after a couple days of dry, warm weather.

Smith said he also heard that local government officials were considering asking the U.S. Army National Guard to drop a large sandbag on the Rocky Dam to stop its flow. He said that the Corps of Engineers has been asked in the past to put a gate on the Rocky Dam, but had decided not to.

The rainstorms that began Saturday and continued through Monday created a 100-year storm event. In this area, that is defined as 5 inches of rain within 24 hours. Smith said the rain levels were recorded at ranges of 4.75 inches to 5 inches.

Chaves County and city of Roswell elected officials and administrators said Wednesday that they are talking with state officials and working to prepare a disaster declaration. That would provide funding to respond to and recover from the event and help individuals and businesses with insurance claims. It also might make available the assistance of other entities, including the National Guard.

Flooding also occurred in the Dexter region, Smith said. He said there are three dams south of Roswell and west of U.S. Highway 285, but water still crossed the highway and flooded some land.

“Because of drought, the grass cover is gone,” he said. “So we’ve got bare soil out there and here comes the storm and all that water comes off.”

According to social media posts posted by the Hagerman Police Department, the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office and Dexter Fire and Rescue, several roads in the Pecos Valley area of Hagerman, Dexter and Lake Arthur were still barricaded by Wednesday afternoon due to high water levels and flowing water.

As of press time on Thursday, the National Weather Service was forecasting the possibility of dry thunderstorms — with little rain but wind gusts and blowing dust — through Saturday evening for north and central New Mexico, including parts of Chaves County.

Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.