AP NEWS

$12.7M dam project aimed at protecting New Mexico village

December 3, 2019 GMT
1 of 4
FILE - This Aug. 16, 2006 file photo shows a Hatch chili that is changing from green to red after being picked resting on an old foundation near a church after flooding in Hatch, N.M. Federal and local officials are moving ahead with plans for a $12.7 million earthen dam to protect a southern New Mexico village from flooding. The project in Hatch, a farming community made famous for its crops of chile peppers, comes as a number of other dams in New Mexico are classified as being in poor shape. (AP Photo/David G. Pierre, File)
1 of 4
FILE - This Aug. 16, 2006 file photo shows a Hatch chili that is changing from green to red after being picked resting on an old foundation near a church after flooding in Hatch, N.M. Federal and local officials are moving ahead with plans for a $12.7 million earthen dam to protect a southern New Mexico village from flooding. The project in Hatch, a farming community made famous for its crops of chile peppers, comes as a number of other dams in New Mexico are classified as being in poor shape. (AP Photo/David G. Pierre, File)

In one southern New Mexico village, it’s like clockwork — the summer rains come and the floodwaters follow.

Federal officials say storm runoff regularly causes significant damage to residential, commercial and agricultural areas in and around the village of Hatch, a farming community along the Rio Grande that is known for growing New Mexico’s signature crop — green chile.

Millions of dollars in damage have been recorded over the years and residents can’t help but remember the times when village streets were covered with as much as 3 feet (1 meter) of water.

Years of study and planning have resulted in a $12.7 million project that officials say will protect Hatch from the seasonal deluges. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Dona Ana County Flood Commission will sign an agreement next week to move ahead with design and construction of an earthen dam in lower Spring Canyon.

Next week’s signing ceremony will mark the completion of the feasibility phase that looked at flooding concerns, the sources of overflow water and potential solutions.

“Once completed, the dam will help keep the Spring Canyon from overflowing and flooding the village of Hatch,” said John Gwynne, director of the Doña Ana County Flood Commission. “We are excited to reach this milestone and get started on the design and construction, putting us closer to our goal.”

The project comes as dozens of other communities around the arid state struggle to find funding to address inadequate flood control infrastructure.

A more than two-year investigation by The Associated Press recently revealed that New Mexico leads the nation with the highest percentage of high-hazard dams that are in either poor or unsatisfactory condition. Some are decades-old and on the list because they lack design and construction documents that would provide more certainty about their ability to handle runoff from a historic storm. Many also lack emergency action plans in case of a failure.

Dona Ana County is home to one-third of the 97 dams in New Mexico that are considered high hazard because of the potential for loss of life if they failed and have been determined to be in poor or unsatisfactory condition.

The project in Hatch will be funded through a combination of federal funding and state and local matching dollars. That includes three legislative appropriations totaling more than $2.2 million.

Officials say Hatch has seen three major floods over the last three decades, including in 2006 when the downtown area was soaked. Numerous homes and businesses were damaged while many families lost the majority of their belongings and were displaced from their homes for several months.