10/8/2013 9:58:00 AM Navajo Division of Transportation fights flooding on Navajo Nation Monsoonal rains damage 21 Arizona chapters along with 26 chapters in New Mexico and six chapters in Utah
Navajo Division of Transportation Director Paulson Chaco and heavy equipment operator Cornelius Kenny inspect a temporary bridge residents of the Pinedale Chapter built after flooding destroyed an original bridge. Photo/Rick Abasta
Monsoon rains hit the Rock Point Chapter especially hard. Flood waters rise on both sides of U.S. Route 191 in mid-September. Photo/Rick Abasta
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - The flood waters have finally receded.
For more than a month, the Navajo Nation received several inches of monsoon rainfall giving life to the high desert plants and creating challenges for reservation travelers in the process.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Navajo Nation received more than 150 percent of the normal amount of precipitation. Portions of Coconino and Navajo County received almost double the normal monsoonal rainfall.
"We have been working the two months to address washouts and flooding across the Navajo Nation," said Paulson Chaco, director of Navajo Division of Transportation (NDOT).
Chaco said NDOT staff worked late into the night and on weekends to get roadways cleared.
"The storms first hit the Eastern Agency in mid-August and continued through into the month of September for the Chinle Agency," Chaco said. "We utilized funds that were earmarked for FY 2014 road maintenance projects to address the flooding. The Navajo Nation needs to do a mitigation plan for these flood plains."
On Aug. 21, the Navajo Nation Commission on Emergency Management met at the Navajo Transportation Center Emergency Operations Center and declared a state of emergency because of damages from torrential monsoonal flooding throughout the Navajo Nation.
The declaration passed by a vote of 4-0.
The commission said the Navajo Nation sustained damages exceeding the $1 million threshold for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) major disaster declaration.
Tribal programs damaged from the storms included Fleet Management, Motor Pool, Body Shop, Navajo Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice, Navajo Nation Council Chamber, Navajo Nation Zoo, Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, and Bureau of Indian Affairs offices.
The declaration listed 21 Arizona chapters that sustained damages, plus 26 chapters in New Mexico with similar damages, and six chapters in Utah that were also adversely affected by the weather conditions.
In addition, water breached 50 earthen dams, excluding federally-listed dams under the Safety of Dams.
Signed by CEM Commissioner Herman Shorty and Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, the declaration allowed the Navajo Nation to coordinate emergency and disaster relief with non-tribal entities.
Chaco said although NDOT was not in the business of maintaining dams, his crew worked feverishly on Sept. 14 to prevent the Crownpoint Dam from breaching.
Lyneve Begaye, an archaeologist with the NDOT Project Planning Department, said she assisted with emergency services in Crownpoint.
"Crownpoint Dam needed monitoring for environmental and archaeological services. We also took out water and supplies for residents," Begaye said.
NDOT staff used a six-inch pump to begin pumping water out of the dam to relieve pressure. Begaye and others also filled and stacked sandbags to hold back the water.
"We ended up sandbagging and clearing an area for our blade and loader to cut a spillway into the dam to relieve the pressure," Begaye said,
With assistance from the Department of Water Resources, workers cut a deep spillway into the dam heading off a flooding disaster.
On Sept. 16, Shelly requested assistance from FEMA to address the damages from the storm.