Gallinas River breach causes concern for residents

Posted at: 09/15/2013 11:43 PM
Updated at: 09/16/2013 11:14 AM
By: Caleb James, KOB Eyewitness News 4

As major flooding continues in the Las Vegas area, a large concern for folks there is the breach of the Gallinas River diversion channel to Storrie Lake.

Floodwaters should have been filling up the lake, but that water was wasted when the channel broke late Thursday.

KOB Eyewitness News 4's crew found that breach, and one rancher argues it should have never happened.

All the water filling Las Vegas has to come from somewhere.

Beyond all the mud and into the Las Vegas thicket, the Storrie Lake diversion channel is not accessible by any main roads, but KOB wanted to find out where it broke.

It was a trek Las Vegas farmer Fred Sanchez was happy to help with. It was on his property.

"This is pasture for animals," said Sanchez, gazing out onto the 18 acres of land where he grows corn and grazes his niece's horses. 

Sanchez bore the brunt of the flood when the earthen channel broke late Thursday.

When KOB arrived on his property, water was still rushing fast.

Sanchez says watching water pour out of the breach is heartbreaking, especially because he warned the Storrie Project Water Association about it.

"Stuff like this was bound to happen, and they don't seem to listen," he said.

He says he and his brother are both among 50 water association members who use this channel for irrigation. He says they have warned the association president Robert Quintana about weaknesses in the channel walls.

"There was a gopher hole, you know, and I think the gopher hole started weakening the structure there," said Sanchez. "This is negligence, you know."

The Storrie Project Water Users Association channel diverts water from the Gallinas River into Storrie Lake.

Rob Larranaga is on the association board and was overseeing the effort to fix the breach on Sunday. He said crews began repairs 30 minutes after the breach was first reported.

We asked Larranaga whether the association board knew about any suspected weaknesses in the earthen channel before the break.

"No, we were not aware of any breaks or any breaches in the canal, not to my knowledge, no sir," Larranaga said.

He said breaches in the channel would have raised major red flags if they were reported.

KOB posed the same question to association president Robert Quintana by phone.

"Did anyone come to you and say they were worried about the structural integrity of it?" KOB's Caleb James asked

"No," Quintana said.

Still, there will be an investigation into what happened.

Saturday night, Emergency Management Cabinet Secretary Greg Meyers toured the area.

"They'll look at the levy and do an assessment of whether it's structurally sound and see if it needs to be replaced, or just reinforced," Meyers said.

KOB asked if there will be any recourse if the investigation determines fault.

"We're not assigning responsibility at all," Meyers said.

That is not what Sanchez wants to hear.

"It's going to be a long battle before we get any results," he said.

Maybe the answer lies in the mud, and the water, only to be found through that investigation. But Sanchez fears it is just a matter of time.

"This will happen maybe 10 years down the road, but it will happen again," he said.