Workers build flood-control facilities in the Lomitas Negras Arroyo for the Southern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority last week. The project is scheduled to finish in October.
(Gary Herron/ Rio Rancho Observer)

That nifty shortcut you occasionally use — taking Saratoga Road north off Northern Boulevard to avoid traffic on NM 528 — forget about it.

For a few weeks, a massive arroyo rehabilitation project had flagmen, holding “slow” and “stop” signs, reminding drivers to slow down or wait for earthmoving equipment across Saratoga, just west of Enchanted Hills Elementary, which was built in a flood plain.

Saratoga is now closed from Vera Cruz Road almost to Obregon Road for flood-control work around the Lomitas Negras Arroyo. It is expected to be open again for traffic when school starts next month.

Work began in late May, with the project expected to be complete in October. It’s the second phase of work in the arroyo.

Salls Brothers Construction is doing this work, estimated to be just more than a half-mile in length, for the Southern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority (SSCAFCA). The City of Rio Rancho and Rio Rancho Public Schools also partnered with SSCAFCA on the $3.4 million project.

In addition to being funded by a $21 million bond 62 percent of voters approved in 2016, the project also received state appropriations and Federal Emergency Management Agency hazard-mitigation funds, according to SSCAFCA Facility Operations Director Dave Gatterman.

“This is our bread and butter,” said Salls Brothers project manager Matthew Dyer. “This is a fairly big one — it’s definitely up there in size.”

This new project has been designed to provide increased flood protection and reduce the potential for damage to downstream areas with public infrastructure and residential development.

It includes lining the arroyo with concrete to stabilize the soil, installing a storm drain, putting in curbs along Obregon Road and doing minor road and drainage work at Saratoga, according to information on the SSCAFCA website.

The work includes the North Tributary, which merges with the Lomitas Negras Arroyo at Saratoga.

An estimated 280,000 cubic yards of dirt are being moved, according to SSCAFCA. Just north of the arroyo and west of Saratoga is the batch plant, or pug mill, which produces the soil-cement mix.

That arroyo lining is evident in what is known as Phase 1 of the project, improvements already made to the arroyo on the east side of NM 528, ultimately leading to the Rio Grande.

In January 2017, SSCAFCA proposed constructing an off-channel detention pond and bank stabilization features in the Lomitas Negras Arroyo to protect adjacent and downstream properties from flood and erosion damage, as well as reduce sediment being deposited in downstream facilities.

Flood events in southern Sandoval County, including Rio Rancho, are characterized by intense thunderstorms that drop significant amounts of rainfall in a very short time, creating a surge of storm water that flows in the arroyos or drainage ditches toward the Rio Grande, according to SSCAFCA.

The semi-arid soils in the area are generally easy to erode, and runoff from these storms can rapidly result in flooding and erode large segments of arroyo bank.

Remember the summer of 2006? A large storm event occurred in the area, resulting in storm water running over Saratoga Road, damaging infrastructure associated with this road, flooding nearby Enchanted Hills Elementary — and impacting NM 528 and the neighborhood just east of it, north of Don Julio Road.

Some vacant land east of Enchanted Hills Elementary will provide, Gatterman said, “another big piece of flat property, if they so choose.” So, the school district can still use it for various activities.