Slopes along Gallinas Canyon, pictured in May, burned by the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire. The fire burned thousands of acres in the Gallinas River watershed, where Las Vegas gets almost all of its water. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)



For years we’re going to have a huge challenge in this community — Utilities Director Maria Gilvarry



Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Las Vegas could face water issues from the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire for the next decade, city and state officials said Wednesday.

The fire burned thousands of acres in the Gallinas River watershed, where the northern New Mexico city gets almost all of its water.

Utilities Director Maria Gilvarry told the City Council that the municipal infrastructure can’t treat the turbid, ash-laden water from the burn scar.

“What we see coming down the river right now with all this sediment, next year it’s going to be logs and sediment,” Gilvarry said. “For years we’re going to have a huge challenge in this community.”

Las Vegas has about 63 million gallons of treatable water stored in Bradner Reservoir – a 40-day supply.

The state has authorized a total of $2.25 million in emergency money for the city to buy a new pre-treatment filtration system.

City officials said the system could be installed this week.

In the meantime, the city has implemented new water restrictions.

Car washes and swimming pools are shut down.

Utility employees are notifying businesses and residents if their water use is above average.

Many restaurants have switched to using paper plates, disposable utensils and bottled water.

Earlier this summer, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funded a $7 million project to protect the city’s water diversions west of town from post-fire flooding.

The flood control structures are catching sediment and debris that enter the river after rains over the burn scar, said Jim Riesterer, a Glorieta Geoscience hydrologist consulting with the city on post-fire projects.

But cleaning the structures is labor-intensive and will require more federal funding.

“Everything was kind of done to get it through the monsoon season, but we all know that this is going to be going on for several years,” Riesterer said.

The pre-treatment filter system and flood barriers are temporary fixes.

But permanent – and costly – upgrades will likely be needed for the main Las Vegas water system.

Ash and debris have impacted the city’s Peterson Reservoir, which is not currently being used.

New Mexico Environment Secretary Jim Kenney applauded city officials for their work to deliver safe water to residents.

The city owns some water storage space in Storrie Lake.

In May, State Engineer Mike Hamman, with the agreement of local water users, issued an order restricting irrigation water diversions out of Storrie Lake. The order aims to preserve water supply for Las Vegas.

“That’s been a significant hardship … from an agricultural perspective,” Hamman said.

State water and agriculture agencies are discussing plans to compensate farmers and ranchers who have suffered crop losses because of the lack of irrigation water.