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  • Notes from Lee

Watch for Water!

New Mexico needs its water. The importance of water cannot be overstated. Whether dammed or running free, wildlife, towns, pueblos, and cities all depend on it. Lakes, deep river canyons and whitewater provide recreation. The state's rivers are life-giving connections between mountain and plains, plateaus and deserts. Millions of migrating birds depend on refuge such as the Bosque del Apache and other wildlife refuges along the Rio Grande. New Mexico’s way of life is greatly influenced by the health of its rivers and the irrigation of crops.

While relaxing in Chimayo at Casa Escondida a few days ago, the sound of rain on the tin roofs reminded me of the many flash floods I've seen. In New Mexico, traffic signs announcing "Watch for Water" are posted wherever arroyos can fill with water during storms. Particularly where there is sandy soil, a flash flood can build in size quickly while dragging rocks, trees, fences, cars and anything else in its path. During a thunderstorm years ago, an arroyo next to my home that usually had a small creek was suddenly filled with an eight foot wall of water. An old water heater rode the crest of the wave! We found the water heater a mile downstream the next day.

Flash floods can occur with little or no warning, move at very fast speeds, and can reach a peak in just a few minutes. Tragedy struck a boy scout camp in 2013 when a little stream (usually about 2 feet wide) turned into a 150 foot wide flood that slammed into tents and killed one of the scouts.

In the 1950s and 1060s, the road between Otowi Bridge and Espanola was called the "rollercoaster" due to its path down into arroyos and then up many times across the desert. During heavy afternoon thunderstorms, it was common to see a car or two stranded between arroyos full of water. All they could do was to wait until the water level lowered.

These were my thoughts in Chimayo as I approached the first "Watch for Water" sign. The water was there and low enough to go through.

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