N.M. 4 next to the home was submerged in places as were parts of the Pino property. The brothers, who are members of Zia Pueblo and ranchers, called the swollen Jemez River a blessing.
“We’re not mad. We’re just trying to keep (the water) so we can provide for our families and provide for our people. It’s a blessing. It’s a blessing to our people,” said Tony Pino, adding that the extra moisture will be helpful to ranchers and farmers in the area. “The river is the life of our village.”
Up and down the Jemez River Valley, residents and officials are preparing for a surge of water expected to crest in the coming days. Snowpack in the Jemez Mountains is melting quickly and pouring into the river, which is raging at levels longtime residents have never seen. Other northern New Mexico mountains are seeing a similar pattern.
Sewer lines in Jemez Springs have taken on additional water, which has overwhelmed the village’s wastewater plant, said Sandoval County Manager Wayne Johnson.
On Jemez Pueblo, Gov. Dominic Gachupin said he was concerned about how a brand new bridge will hold up amid the surge of water, and for the chile, squash, watermelons and corn the pueblo grows along the banks of the river.
He said pueblo administrators were delivering sand bags to residents who live close to the river.
“We’re grateful and humbled by it,” he said Thursday of the raging river. “It’s our ancestral homeland, we have to take care of it – and one another.”
In Jemez Springs, Johnson said the village doesn’t know if the river water has been contaminated, and testing will be done to see if sewage water is in it. Officials are advising people to stay out of the river for that reason, and because it’s moving so fast.
Jemez Springs Police Chief Felix Nunez said the village is bringing in a swift water rescue team in case there is an emergency. He said police officers on Thursday were trying to get some daredevil kayakers out of the river, including one paddler who descended Soda Dam.
Johnson said village drinking water hasn’t been affected.
The U.S. Geological Survey measured the height of the river at nearly 8 feet on Thursday morning, according to agency’s website. It was under 5 feet a week ago.
Officials were expecting it to crest at about 9 feet in the coming days.
“If this goes higher than 9 feet, if the flooding gets really bad, of course, we’re going to make that call (for evacuations) sooner rather than later,” Johnson said.
The National Weather Service in Albuquerque issued a flood advisory on Wednesday that will remain in place until Tuesday morning.
The advisory predicted the river to crest at between 8 and 10 feet. Eight feet is when flooding will start to occur. At 10 feet, there will be widespread flooding and bridges in and around Jemez Springs will be impassable and dangerous. The Weather Service said the river is reaching levels not seen since 1990, when it bulged to 8.8 feet.
The Weather Service also has issued a “special weather statement,” saying creeks and rivers throughout northern New Mexico mountains are going to see rapid rises and some mountain roads may experience localized flooding because the snowpack is melting rapidly. The agency warned of rock and mudslides. A separate flood advisory was issued Thursday for areas surrounding the Pecos River in San Miguel County.
So far, no homes have been evacuated in Jemez Springs, a village of about 200 people on N.M. 4.
Despite the ballooned river, Jemez Springs Mayor Roger Sweet said the town remains open for business.
“We have all of our businesses are open, Highway 4 is open,” he said. “It’s safe to come up here. We have beautiful backcountry hiking. … You just have to be wary of the river.”
The village will have sand bags available at the fire station starting Friday, Johnson said.
He said snowpack in surrounding areas was about 200% of normal, which is fueling the river when temperatures in town soared to around 80 degrees Wednesday.
“It’s very unnerving. It’s very unnerving,” said Donna Sanchez, who has a home that backs up to the river. “There’s nothing we can do. We’re at the mercy of the river.”
Longtime residents said the river is a focal point of the community. Pam Cornwell said many residents have to cross river bridges to get to and from their homes. She was walking on a path next to the river Thursday.
“It’s something everybody knows, recognizes. People come up here to recreate on the river, to fish the river, to picnic by the river. We watch it every time we go in and out of our house. We watch the (water) level. We stop on the bridge and look for the fish. We walk along the river,” she said. “It’s a very, very important part of this community. … It adds to life here.”