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Wildfires this year have scorched thousands of acres in northern New Mexico.
The fires also threaten acequias that provide water to hundreds of farmers and ranchers, New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission officials said Thursday.
The panel voted to direct $100,000 from a state Legislature special appropriation to assess wildfire effects on acequias and community ditches.
Commissioner Paula Garcia recently returned to her Mora farm after fleeing the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire.
“The fire is absolutely devastating for this region of the state,” said Garcia, who is also executive director of the New Mexico Acequia Association. “I’m seeing the burn scars every day on very steep slopes. And it’s a serious public safety issue as we look now towards the monsoons.”
Even minimal rainfall could send ash into the acequias that divert water from northern New Mexico rivers and streams.
Acequias in or near the fire zones are also at risk of erosion, floods and debris flow, said ISC director Rolf Schmidt-Petersen.
“Maybe as many as 100 acequias are within the footprint, or close to that, of just the Hermits/Peak Calf Canyon Fire, to say nothing about Cerro Pelado, and some of the other fires that are out there, including Ruidoso,” he said.
The acequia group is working with federal agencies and soil and water conservation districts to ensure that acequias are included in post-fire maps and project plans.
The association is also hiring a disaster and recovery coordinator specifically for wildfire response efforts.
Commissioner Phoebe Suina, a hydrologist who studies burned watersheds, said the massive fires will likely influence the health of rivers, streams and acequias for years.
“We are going to have to juggle the impacts and address the impacts, especially for downstream communities and infrastructure,” Suina said.
The commission said the money will fund a preliminary assessment.
More money could be directed to specific acequia projects once agencies finish collecting data about fire impacts.