The La Joya Acequia, the system of irrigation ditches between Contreras and La Joya, is receiving financial assistance thanks to Governor Lujan Grisham’s executive order on Nov. 30 declaring a state of emergency in Socorro County.
According to a press release from the governor’s office, the order aims to provide local governments with the tools and funding they need to begin recovering from the heavy rainfall and severe flooding that impacted the county in early July of this year.
Like similar declarations for Lincoln, Chaves, Valencia, Eddy, Doña Ana, Mora, Rio Arriba and Catron counties, this order provides up to $750,000 for the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to support public recovery efforts organized by city and county officials.
“This emergency declaration is a major step in Socorro County’s recovery,” DHSEM Secretary Bianca Ortiz-Wertheim said. “With this executive order, the county will have the funds they need to repair damaged roadways and critical irrigation systems, such as the La Joya Acequia and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District. Moving forward, our department will continue to work closely with local, state, and federal partners.”
In this instance, the state constitution does not allow state emergency funds to be used for direct financial assistance to private individuals, but the La Joya Acequia is considered a public entity and does not fall under the anti-donation clause.
“The acequia is the lifeblood of the area. It’s nine miles long. Multiple things can happen along those nine miles. When there’s a major incident they don’t have the money to go in and get them repaired. The governor’s executive order allows them to go ahead and do the work, and then get reimbursed for that work,” said Jerry Wheeler, the county’s Emergency Coordinator. Acequias in New Mexico are run by a board and farmers pay dues to use the water and to provide for upkeeping the ditches to keep water flowing during the growing season.
The emergency declaration was requested following the torrential rainstorm of July 2.
“We contacted the state’s emergency management office and let them know what the initial assessment was. The state came down and did a preliminary assessment on July 9,” Wheeler said. “The county commission approved the declaration request at its July 27 meeting,”
The July storms were so heavy that rainwater overflowed arroyos and took a toll on the acequia ditches.
“They try to design the ditches so the water runs right over them, but sometimes the rapidly flowing water is too much, filling them with silt,” he said.
In one area south of La Joya the concrete liner will have to be replaced.
“There are several sites where it actually washed out the concrete liner and cracked it and actually caved in some of it,” he said. “There are five sites other along there where they have to dig out the ditch.”
Wheeler said that when an arroyo washes across acequia ditches washouts are bound to happen.
“It either washes out the road that runs along the acequia or, in one case, came close to washing out the culvert the water flows through,” he said. “We monitor these storms when they’re coming in and watch the national weather service radar for developing storms in the area. We have to be ready.”
On Friday, July 2, he saw that a large storm system was on its way.
“We actually had two storms to move into that area that weekend,” Wheeler said. “I got in contact with La Joya’s Mayordomo at that time to let them know we have storms coming in, as a heads up.”
Once the storm passes and damages are assessed, if repairing the ditch system is beyond the capability of the acequia, an emergency declaration is requested.
“As disasters impact Socorro County on an ongoing basis, different difficulties arise that the community cannot anticipate,” Socorro County Emergency Manager Gail Tripp said. “The latest areas of repeated impact have been the small acequia systems in the northern part of the county. The acequia board has done its best to mitigate damages that occur during flash floods, but water is a powerful force and most mitigation is to no avail. The funds from DHSEM for relief from the disaster are absolutely necessary for recovery and continued operation of the acequia systems.”
This declaration also means that affected localities within the county could also be eligible for state assistance. Additionally, state emergency declarations authorize the Adjutant General to activate the New Mexico National Guard for necessary support and direct all cabinet departments to assist with a statewide response.