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‘Good water year’ runoff prompts levee repairs

The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District has reinforced a levee along the Lower Corrales Riverside Drain south of Paseo del Norte in Albuquerque due to erosion from a heavy 2019 spring runoff season. (Robert Browman/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Buoyed by the runoff from the winter’s healthy snowpack, Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District officials last week talked about the “good water year” – but also about the resulting strain on area levees.

National Weather Service data shows no areas of New Mexico are experiencing severe drought. Last year at this time, more than half the state was experiencing severe, extreme or exceptional drought.

“We’re past the peak and the runoff does seem to be settling down,” water operations division manager David Gensler told the board at its Monday meeting in Albuquerque. “And now there’s an indication that we’re starting to move into monsoon flow. This has to be one of the easiest years on record for the MRGCD.”

Jason Casuga, engineering division manager, told the board about increased erosion and sloughing on levees because of the high runoff levels.

“It’s been a good water year, and we should celebrate,” Casuga said. “But we’re also seeing strain and damage on some levees (on the Rio Grande) because of the effect of water sitting there over time.”

Casuga told the Journal that levee repairs are the norm, although this year there have been more repairs than usual on engineered levees in Bernalillo County. He said there was no danger of imminent levee failure.

“We work on these levees all the time, and we’re tirelessly inspecting them,” Casuga said. “We repair what we find, and we’ve done repairs since May. But again, there’s really nothing to be concerned about, especially throughout Albuquerque.”

The engineering division at MRGCD anticipated the high water levels on the river this year and didn’t wait to start levee inspections. Casuga said the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority also inspect and repair levees.

“We prepared early so we would be ready as soon as the water came,” Casuga said. “We’ve been inspecting levees since late April, and we do so on a weekly basis – even on the weekends.”

Casuga said this year’s levee repair efforts have been centered in Valencia County.

“We just started seeing issues on these engineered levees farther north in Albuquerque,” Casuga told the board. “If the sloughing is on an engineered levee, we can take more time. We dig and place a layer of filter fabric and then a rock layer on top. We allow the water to go somewhere, but keep the material there.”

MRGCD Chair Karen Dunning asked if the staff was prepared for potential heavy rains in the fall that could threaten levees along the river.

“These guys are trained and have been through this before,” Casuga said. “We’re experiencing duration of water versus a one-time high-flow event. But we’ve learned a lot, and we’re prepared to work even when the water stops.”

Casuga told the board more than $900,000 has been spent on levee repairs this year, with MRGCD contributing $532,000 and the Interstate Stream Commission contributing $400,000.