July 2013 Flood
As floods go, it could have been much worse. The living room is drying nicely, we can still use the 2 gates, fences can be repaired, the irrigation ditch will eventually be put back into working order.
Let me ramble, and there will be lots of pics for those who want to skim through. July 19th, 2013 provided us with the quintessential northern NM arroyo flash flood. We had heavy rain that lasted more than the regular 3 minutes. Rain is precious here and in demand. I left the living room door open to the dogyard to listen to the rain and smell it as I worked on weaving stuff. M3 was an hour drive away attending his EMT class. My first inclination that something was wrong was when a flood of water moved across the carpet towards the loom.
I tossed a rug on it to stymy the flow and ran for towels. The dogyard was flooded. I shut and locked the door and went for more towels. I then added rugs. The flow slowed, so I thought I had done good.
Not. Even. Close.
It was hailing and raining hard for a little while, so I took some crappy pictures from inside the house. We have a circular driveway, which became a minor river capable of supporting rafts, at least according to the trash cans and buckets that got swept along and deposited some distance from their place of use. The chickens were quite concerned and several were trapped for several minutes in a bush as they sought higher ground to avoid the flood.
As I was taking photos from inside, I noticed that the red gate to the pasture and corrals was open wide, which meant the donkeys could make an escape. Since they invariably head for the highway, I took my chances, and the camera, on strolling down there to tie it shut. By now, it was only raining lightly but there was still plenty of water flowing from the west (hills) to the east (river). I had to watch my footing as the landscape had changed. Some places were now a foot or two taller, covered in sand and ‘desert mulch’ which is my pet term for all the light weight plant matter & crap (literally, poo floats) that gathered in huge clumps. Other places had been scoured of their covering, leaving roots and rocks exposed.
I saw that the ditch was still full to the brim with water and overflowing at our ditch gate – which was the best I could hope for under the circumstances. That much water could take out a ditch wall, which could lead to huge car-sized runnels carved into our pasture. It would also affect everyone else on our ditch as no one would be able to use the water until we repaired it. So, overflowing was good in this instance.
My two big donkeys were in the goat corral staying somewhat dry. My two burros were in the donkey corral standing in the rain, getting a shower. They probably needed it and I didn’t expect the temperature to drop, so I wasn’t worried.
I checked the red gate and noticed that the chain to lock it shut had broken. Bailing twine always works in a pinch. With that tied shut, I did a quick inspection of the corrals. The feeding troughs were a little less than half full of water. This means the flood had to be high enough to come over the edge of these bathtubs (repurposed into feeding troughs). Also, the goat water trough (repurposed water heater) was full of desert mulch and muddy water. I scooped some of the larger stuff out barehanded, which wasn’t the smartest thing. Apparently desert mulch isn’t just nice things like pine needles and elk scat, but also cactus spines. Nice.
With the animals secure, I headed up to the chicken coop to see if I could get a chicken head count. The flood had pushed the gate to the chicken yard shut, so I spent time arguing with that. This also meant there were zero chickens in the coop, though I did find a toad and 15 eggs, so it wasn’t a waste of my time. We counted later and all chickens were accounted for.
Water was still flowing through my drive way, down the pasture, and to the duck pond and the river. I found that the deposited sand was rather deceptive, appearing solid, yet giving several inches when I walked on it. This became a hazard, as my shoes repeatedly were sucked off as I trounced around my property trying to stem the tide of floodish disaster. Back inside, I went to the bedroom window to try to get a clear picture of the dogyard. It was flooded, like a very large kiddie wading pool.
Some of you know that just over a decade, the previous owners of this house suffered a 100-year flood, which deposited over a foot of sand in what is now the dogyard. This means that from the living room, when you open the door to the dogyard, you then have to step up into it. Well, the water in the dogyard was level with the water against the living room door.
Well, I am not particularly lady like, and I was the only person home, so I used stronger language than that. Repeatedly.
The water inside had escaped my impromptu sandbagging with towels and rugs. I grabbed the rest of the rugs throughout the house and piled them on. Water was still trickling in, making a happy gurgling sound as it invaded my personal space. I went to my much neglected vegetable garden and fetched a shovel. In the living room, there is a second door to the dogyard on the opposite side of the room. We rarely use it, so I had to move the slightly-more often used exercise equipment to get to it. Oh, have I mentioned my dog Tanuki has been vomiting and leaving diarrhea presents for us the past few days? Yeah, so I didn’t want to leave him without access to the dogyard for too long. Nature was throwing motivation at me from every direction.
OK. So, first, I built a mud berm to hold back the dogyard water. This called for balance and persistence. We have these railroad ties for borders that I was balanced on. However, a few them had been undercut by the rushing water and were no longer stable. Anyway, I managed to build the berm without twisting an ankle. Then came time to bail the water away from the door and hope that berm held. Tanuki and Hannibal took this time to splash around in their ‘wading pool’.
Several minutes later, I had succeeded in emptying the water from the little entrance square to the door. If the berm held, then we should be able to deal with the water inside. By this point, I was quite exhausted. I had been helping a family friend pack up her aged mother’s house the past two mornings. I had already moved several boxes, helped with a dump run, and gone up and down more steps than I cared to recall.
Alas, I needed to get the animals in from the pasture and secured, just in case any more fences or gates were damaged. As I headed back down, I saw that my irrigation ditch was in trouble. We had a massive built up of sand just south (downstream) of our ditch gate. We are near the end of the ditch, so that means all the water in the ditch was piling up in our segment of the ditch. There was between 15-25 feet in length of sand all the way to the rim of the ditch walls. Our ditch was no longer a ditch. It was too filled in for me to call it that. I opened my ditch gate to relieve the water pressure, which allowed a second minor flood through my pasture. I didn’t like the choices I kept coming across.
That seen too, I now had to bail water and desert mulch from 3 feeding troughs. In the best of weather, they are difficult for me to lift being metal bathtubs. Of course, the donkeys found this entertaining and insisted in helping by pulling on my shirt and Tobiah had a pee nearby. If I wanted another minor flood, I would not have asked for a donkey-made one. Tobiah grinned at me while I cursed him. I continued bailing.
With that completed, I fed the donkeys, locked them in their corral, and then filled the goat troughs. That completed, I rinsed off in the ditch water. Yes, that does tell you something; the ditch water was cleaner than me at that point, covered in dogyard mud and hay dust (sometimes I call it alfalfa smut because it gets into every crevice). As I made the trek to the lower pasture for the goats, I found several things that belonged above the red gate, like a bag of household trash and buckets. The landscape was changed, foreign. I had to watch my footing as the newly scoured land wanted to shift or reach out and grab me. The goats came to me right away and were quite happy to head for the corral. I opened the gate for them and they thundered past.
The ducks and geese were quite happy with this show of force from Mother Nature. Their pond had swollen, creeping up the sides all the way to the fence line. Their little houses were engulfed by the water line. But this simply meant more roots to dig for in the muddy water. Indeed, nearly all of the geese and ducks were engaged in searching out their favorite foods in the saturated soil. Our two newest geese (thanks R&K!) were having fun trying boss everyone one around. Mostly, they were ignored. I trekked back up to the corrals and decided to leave the goats loose in the upper pasture as they had very little dry space to lie down after eating.
Phone lines and the internet had been down for sometime. I checked as I didn’t know when M3 was coming home. Still down. There was one last major chore to see to as my mud berm in the dogyard was holding. I had seen from the dogyard that the front green gate was damaged. I wouldn’t know how badly until I got out there. With shovel and camera, I headed out.
The driveway was no longer a driveway. It was a mix of deep gouges and high sand banks. The pain of my blasted ankle was starting to beat through the adrenaline haze. As you can see from the picture, the green gate is warped, bent out of shape by the force of the flood. There were also several feet wide and a few feet thick for desert mulch still pressed up against it. I had brought the gate key and while I could unlock the padlock, I could not slip the chain as it was under too much strain. I had to walk through some very sucking sand mud to get to the other side of the gate. Lucky for me, the flood had flattened the fence line so I didn’t have to climb a fence or the gate.
As I began what seemed the fruitless task of shifting enough desert mulch to open the gate and allow vehicle access, a neighbor stopped as he was driving by and offered to come over with a backhoe to straighten out the driveway (thanks N. W.!). Shortly after that exchange, the local volunteer fire & EMS brush truck went by with K & V. they stopped to let me know M3 was only a short distance behind them. Turns out another arroyo was flooding and traversing the highway, so M3 was directing traffic. They headed up to a call. I took a few photos of the arroyo that traverses a corner of our property and continues onto another neighbor’s property, heading for the ditch. Just in front of our property, that arroyo usually feeds into 2 or 3 metal culverts that run underneath the highway. However, as you can see from the picture, those culverts became completely filled and water flooded over the highway and scoured our property.
My neighbor showed up with another neighbor’s backhoe (thanks B. Y. !). This was when M3 got home. He worked with N. W. to clear the desert mulch, open the gate, and then reshape part of our driveway back into a drivable surface. He is just cool like that. Meanwhile, K & V returned from their call and stopped to see if we needed any assistance. C. also showed up (who is also with the volunteer department) and our neighbor D. K. walked across the road and noticed that the culverts on the west side of the highway were completely filled and also blocked by a rather large downed pine tree.
Once the driveway was usable, N. W. left to go do other good deeds and the fire department trekked back to the house to see the flooding of the living room. That wasn’t quite the way I had envisioned having the department over, but my dogs had fun jumping on new people. Once they left to go do further good deeds, we fed the house pets, started the laundry (all those towels and rugs can’t just sit!), and set up the big fan on the carpet. Oh, there was also lots of icing of the joints after a cleansing shower.
All in all, we need to do some steam cleaning, some laundry, and we had some water damaged books. There is tons of outdoor work to do and I am not sure how many folks on the ditch now have serpentine sand traps instead of neat waterways. There has been some talk of this little flood being a state recognized emergency, which means perhaps there will be funds to have the ditch dug out. In any event, the ditch is unusable until that major task is accomplished. We heard that the local hot springs (Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs) had up to 4 feet of water in one parking lot which shifted some cares around. So, it could have been worse for us. Additionally, we aren’t sure when the culverts will be cleared, so we are hoping for a light rain at the most and a little bit of sunny weather is preferred. Today (July 20th), we had more rain and there was a nervous half hour as the water in the dogyard and the driveway was monitored. Luckily, there were no problems.