After the fires, after the rains

Last summer’s Las Conchas fire, as seen from the north end of Albuquerque.

All I can think about is rain.

With fires burning across the western United States, temperatures climbing beyond the high 90s, and crackly dry vegetation everywhere I’ve hiked lately, I keep wishing for afternoon clouds and cooling rains.

Of course, I’m just dreaming. The National Weather Service forecasts that today’s temperatures in Albuquerque will be five to fifteen degrees above normal. And it’s going to be dry, dry, dry.

When New Mexico does eventually get some rain, that will be good news, of course. But it will also mean trouble for burned areas–and the people and wildlife living downstream.

Last week, Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall co-sponsored a bill to help New Mexicans “more quickly take advantage of flood insurance administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).” (You can read more about the bill here.)

And earlier this week, the Associated Press reported that the Natural Resources Conservation Service is installing eight early waning systems around the perimeter of the Whitewater-Baldy burn area in the Gila National Forest.

In my own neighborhood near Albuquerque, I can still see ash from last summer’s Las Conchas fire. Once it rained, ash moved downstream from the Jemez Mountains and through the Rio Grande and its network of ditches, canals, and drains. Eleven months later, whenever people irrigate their fields or yards–and the ditch’s water level goes down–that layer of ash reminds me of how powerful flooding can be when vegetation is no longer anchoring soil in place.

In case you’ve never seen what post-fire floods can do, check out the videos below. They’re all from August 2011, following Las Conchas.

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One thought on “After the fires, after the rains

  1. Pingback: Are New Mexico’s tribes being flooded — then left high and dry? | New Mexico In Depth

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