High Waters At Indian Dams Force Evacuations; National Guard Alerted
ZUNI PUEBLO, N.M. (AP) _ More than 100 people were evacuated Wednesday and a general emergency declared after heavy rains and snowmelt put pressure on two earthen dams on Zuni Indian tribal lands, officials said.
The two dams - one at Black Rock Lake and another 2 miles downstream at Eustace Lake on the Zuni River - were expected to hold, but the National Guard had been asked to stand by in case further evacuations were necessary, said McKinley County Sheriff Tony Sanchez.
Zuni tribal Councilman Lowell Panteah said a general emergency had been declared for Zuni Pueblo because water was flowing over the 20-foot Eustace dam.
He said about 20 families and a school in the southwest part of Zuni village had been flooded out.
About 60 people, mostly tribal employees, were sandbagging in the southwestern part of the village to avoid further flood damage, Panteah said.
Officials feared earlier Wednesday that the dams might break, but a representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said during a meeting with Zuni Gov. Chauncey Simplicio that the dams in northwestern New Mexico should hold, Sanchez said.
National Guard units in Santa Fe and Gallup had been placed on alert Wednesday evening, but were later simply put on call after the situation at the dam stabilized, said John Ramming, director of Gov. Toney Anaya’s special projects office.
″The request of the tribe is limited to providing National Guard vehicles to evacuate the 200 people still in the area should it breach,″ Ramming said.
Ramming said 100 to 150 people who live below the dam were evacuated to higher ground.
″I understand that because of the high waters, there’s a lot of silt behind that dam which is putting a lot of pressure on it,″ Ramming said. The dam is holding back an estimated 1,000 acre-feet of water, he said.
The heaviest water flow is from Eustace dam, which connects with the Zuni River by an arroyo, Sanchez said.
The water depth flowing over the spillway at the Black Rock Lake dam had been rising at a rate of 6 inches an hour from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., but had stabilized later Wednesday, Ramming said.
More rain and snow was predicted Thursday for the Zuni Pueblo area, about 135 miles west of Albuquerque, Ramming said.
The water apparently is coming from the town of Ramah and flowing first into Black Rock Lake, then Eustace Lake, which then flows into Zuni River that runs through Zuni Pueblo, Sanchez said.