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Las Vegas declared a state of emergency this week as ash in the Gallinas River watershed has forced the city to rely on reservoir storage for water supply.
“The Gallinas River – that’s our lifeline,” Mayor Louie Trujillo said. “Right now we can’t take any water out of the river because all of the ash and debris that burned. It has rendered that water not usable for the filtration system that we have.”
The Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire has burned across more than 341,000 acres. The blaze, which was started by two separate U.S. Forest Service burns, was 94% contained as of Friday.
Trujillo said the city has enough water in storage for 50 days.
Large swaths of the watershed west of town were severely burned in the fire, and ongoing flooding could make the watershed’s ash problem worse.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Friday authorized a total of $2.25 million in emergency money for the city.
Funds will be used for a new system to treat water from the nearby Storrie Lake for municipal use.
“New Mexicans in San Miguel County have been through enough,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “We will continue to do everything we can to support them and prevent additional damage as a result of the wildfires.”
The Governor’s Office said the state will seek reimbursement from the federal government for post-fire costs.
The new filtration system could be installed within two weeks, Trujillo said.
Las Vegas implemented more water restrictions on Friday to conserve the limited supply.
The restrictions ban outdoor watering and refilling private swimming pools.
Restaurants may not serve water unless customers specifically ask, and decorative fountains must use recycled water.
The city is also working with big water users such as New Mexico Highlands University and the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute to conserve water.
A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project has helped keep logs and boulders in the fire and flood zone from damaging city water infrastructure.
“Our water is completely safe to drink at this time,” Trujillo said. “We’re asking people not to waste water at all, and to purchase bottled water for drinking. That would help us a lot, too.”