Two years after the Las Conchas fire destroyed more than 156,000 acres in New Mexico, the Santa Clara Pueblo are still suffering from the effects.
On September 30 Deputy Secretary of the Interior Michael Connor toured the still-ravaged tribal lands, whose residents are still feeling the fallout not only from the fire but also from subsequent deluges that stripped off burned-out topsoil in the absence of the torched trees.
Connor toured the ongoing damage and met with tribal officials, according to a Department of the Interior statement.
“The scarring and watershed damage that we see here in the Santa Clara Pueblo underscores the need for added attention and resources toward lands and watersheds that have been affected by fires and flooding,” Connor said in the DOI statement. “Watershed restoration has been a key part of the President’s Climate Action Plan, and we continue to be committed to working with partners across the country to restore the health and resiliency of our forests and water sources.”
President Barack Obama has reached out to tribes under his plan to both mitigate and adapt to the environmental changes being wrought as the planet warms and greenhouse gas emissions continue.
The Las Conchas fire scorched 156,593 acres in northern New Mexico starting on June 26, 2011, 16,587 of which belonged to the Santa Clara Pueblo, the DOI release recounted. While it was most famous for nearly reaching the Alamo, the fire also burned lands belonging to Ohkay Owinghe, San Ildefonso, Pojoaque Jemez, Cochiti and Kewa, plus lands in the National Forest System and under jurisdiction of the National Park Service.
In the two ensuing summers, floods devastated the hamlet during the rainy season, causing the Pueblo to declare a state of emergency in 2012 and 2013. Connor’s tour included a survey of four dam structures in the main channel of Santa Clara Canyon that had been inundated by so much fast-flowing water that they burst, contributing to the flooding and damage for the past three seasons, the statement said.
“In the first full year after the fire, significant flooding occurred during the summer monsoon season with estimated flows from 5,000 to 9,000 cubic feet per second, overwhelming the individual dam spillway capacity,” Interior’s statement said. “This, coupled with the reduced reservoir capacity, resulted in embankment over topping and dam stability degradation.”
The Pueblo has qualified for FEMA assistance.