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Flood commissioner says gate needed on dam

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Chaves County Flood Commissioner Tim Jennings talks Thursday with county commissioners about repairs to the flood-control berm. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Although the immediate repairs to the flood-control berm have been completed, the “real problem” remains to be fixed, according to the Chaves County Flood Commissioner.

Tim Jennings identified the “real problem” as the lack of a gate or barriers on Rocky Dam, what he refers to as the Rocky Arroyo Dam.

“We are probably going to need help from elected officials or others to pursue that, the Corps of Engineers placing gates on the Rocky Arroyo Dam,” Jennings said to members of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners during their Thursday morning meeting.

The Rocky Dam and the Diamond A Dam make up the Twin Rivers Dam project managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The dams are part of the flood-control project west of Roswell, with the Chaves County berm also meant for flood control.

Jennings said the lack of gates not only caused overflow water from the “100-year” storms from May 30 to June 1 to flow into the Hondo channel, which contributed to the berm breach, but the ungated dam allowed water to continue flooding after storms ended, which prevented crews from getting to the berm to fix the breach that caused waters to flood into the south part of Roswell near the Air Center and into the Orchard Park area south of the city.

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The berm is also often called a levee, and Jennings sometimes refers to it as diversion 3.

Sandbags for the dam were not an option this time, he said. He described them as weighing 2,600 to 2,800 pounds each and needing to be dropped by air.

Jennings also added that the ground in the arroyo and berm area after storms is very soft, with visible sinkholes. The area also is flat. All those conditions led to the “perfect storm,” he said, that allowed the flooding and caused delays in repair.

County Manager Bill Williams said that crews were able to stop the water flow from the berm on Monday with some additional shoring up done on Tuesday.

“We should be safe,” said Jennings, “unless we have a perfect storm that comes between the dams and our protected areas.”

He and other county officials said that Flood Commission Superintendent Dick Smith and his crews did a good job during a difficult time.

Although some agencies have talked about as many as three breaches in the berm, which is about 1.25 miles west of the city, Jennings said there was only one break.

“There was only one breach that was in there,” he said. “The other was designed overflow on that (berm). It worked very well.”

He explained that certain areas in the berm were designed to allow water to flow out without washing out the berm.

Jennings does acknowledge that additional work to the berm or levee area would be good. That could include raising the 5-foot berm by 18 inches to 2 feet and perhaps building a canal so that water could drain better during heavy storms.

“We’ve gotten some emergency money that we can repair diversion No. 3,” he said. “We can’t add to it. That would take additional appropriations.”

He said the Flood Commission might have enough funding for the long-term repairs, but that the commission might also have to seek additional funding, depending on the cost of the project.

But he stands firm in his view that the gate on the dam needs to be in place first.

Local officials say that U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees have up to this point said that no gates or barriers are needed on Rocky Dam. Diamond A Dam does have a gate.

They “pretty much told us they aren’t really interested in putting a gate on the dam,” said Williams. “They don’t think that would do it any good. But as the commissioner told us, had they been able to turn off the water just for a few hours, they would have gone in and repaired the damage.”

The Corps of Engineers has not responded to several requests asking about Rocky Dam.

Williams said it was “unfortunate” that water flowed onto people’s property for several days.

At least five people had extensive enough damage to their homes that they received emergency relief funds from the American Red Cross. Other residents and businesses in Roswell and Orchard Park reported flooded properties and property damage, flooded drinking wells and septic tanks, and lost livestock. Volunteers with nonprofit agencies and religious groups have sought to help them.

The five members of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners also voted 5-0 Thursday for the disaster declaration, making official the emergency request that had been forwarded to the state on June 3. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a state of emergency for the county on June 9 and for the city of Roswell on Monday.

Those declarations provide up to $750,000 to each government entity for public projects in response to the flooding. Roswell officials have said that, if a federal emergency declaration is made due to damage in Lincoln, Eddy and Chaves counties, funds might be available for individuals.

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