Las Vegas officials brace for flooding along Gallinas River

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LAS VEGAS, N.M. — Many are celebrating the monsoon season, but with it brings flooding dangers, so communities already hurt by wildfires are preparing for the worst.

KOB 4 has a behind-the-scenes look in Las Vegas at a massive project that crews hope will provide some relief.

The Gallinas River runs through the heart of Las Vegas and provides drinking water for thousands of New Mexicans. While it’s calm right now, city leaders know it’s only a matter of time until the monsoon unleashes floods unlike anything they’ve ever seen. But just a few miles up the river, a massive construction project could help prevent a historic disaster.

“This is the best, what I call, interim strategy that you can do in days that’s good enough,” said Andy Knight, project manager. 

It’s a race against the clock for crews working to build massive barriers on the Gallinas River.

“The first structure right here is your first line of defense. And it will, it will stop the majority of thing,” said Knight. 

And that includes fallen trees and any other debris washed down from forests scorched by the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers designed the massive 9-foot structures, which also help remove toxic ash from the water.

“It’s a filtration system. It’s no different from a filtration system in your house, but it’s in the environment,” Knight said. 

The structures only go so far though.

Crews say they’re designed to let water pass through them so the natural flow of the river is not disturbed. Experts predict floods this summer could be even more intense.

“Because there’s no vegetation, and it’s all burnt, there’s potential for this flood to be four times worse. And you know, they could be deadly if you’re not alerted to them, if you’re not prepared for them,” said Michael Montoya Las Vegas city councilor. 

City crews cleaned up debris near bridges, hoping to give floodwaters a straight path through the city, but that still might not be enough.

“We’ll probably never really be fully prepared. But we’re trying to do our best to let people know that this is serious. It’s no joke,” Montoya said. 

Construction crews were able to finish the first river barrier in just eight days, with plans to finish three more in a few weeks.

“Let me tell you, this has been record speed here. This hasn’t really been done before,” said Montoya.  

A testament to the danger communities are still facing weeks after wildfires carved a path of destruction.

“Sometimes floods can be worse than fires. We didn’t lose no lives during the fire that I’m aware of, but we don’t want, nobody dying out of a flood either,” Montoya said.