The question is not if flooding will occur, but when it will come and how much damage it may do.
At a community meeting in Globe Tuesday night, experts from multiple agencies and local government addressed the threat of flooding in this area as a result of the fire which burned over 7000 acres throughout much of May and June in the Pinal mountains.
In satellite images provided by the forest service, significant swaths of the Pinals show high to moderate burn severity which means when the monsoon rains do come this summer there will be little to stop the water from picking up the fine ash left by the fire and flowing downhill at greater velocity, and with more debris than before.
So what can we expect in the coming monsoon season compared to last year ‘pre-fire’conditions?
“Four to five times the amount you see in a normal year,” says Thomas Beddow.
Beddow is with the Forest Service and is leading the Burned Area Emergency Response team tasked with implementing a series of projects in this area to mitigate flood damage. This includes a long ‘to-do’ list including clearing the drainages.
When asked by a resident about what he should do regarding the barbed wire fences that criss cross private properties and drainage areas, Beddow suggests land owners clip these fences and lay them back to create a clear pathway for the flow.
“These fences will be taken out completely by a high intensity flow,” said Beddow, “so we suggest property owners take action and choose the best place to clip these fences and lay them back out of the way. “
The county has applied for $300K in federal funds for flood mitigation as of Monday, but Jacque Sanders, Assistant County Manager, says that at the time they applied for this grant they were told there was $2million remaining in the fund.
“It (funding) is based on first-come-first-serve,” Sanders says, “and we don’t know how many other disasters might be ahead of us.”
The funding would support an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ from Gila County and partnering agencies for men, equipment, and additional resources to go to work clearing drainages and building in flood barriers throughout the canyons and along Pinal Creek.
In advance of this effort, private property owners are being asked to cooperate with the County and sign off on a ‘Cooperative Agreement’ which gives the County the right to come onto their property to ‘remove debris within active wash channels and adjacent at-risk structures.’ The County is hoping for a 100% buy-in from property owners, but will pass on a property should they not get the owners permission.
According to Carl Medford, Emergency Manager with Gila County, they are planning an event TODAY in which 10+ county employees will be going door-to-door with the cooperators agreement to get signatures and answer questions.
Currently the county is providing sandbags, free of charge, to residents that may have flooding concerns. Medford encourages any resident to contact him directly to discuss how many bags might be needed at any particular property. A fill station for sand is also in the works, but at this time the site has not been determined.
Cami Lucero, of State Farm Insurance was one of several local insurance agents at the community meeting to answer questions about flood insurance. She says that many people don’t carry flood insurance because it’s expensive and most people believe their homeowner’s insurance covers floods, which it doesn’t.
She goes on to point out that flood insurance doesn’t cover everything and requires that you pay for the year up front. A summary of coverage by FEMA regarding the National Flood Insurance Program outlines the extent (and limits) of such coverage which is why property owners should work with their local insurance agents to determine if it is right for them.
Gila County will find out next week if they will get the funds requested, and then it would be another 3-5 days to receive the money.
When asked what happens if they don’t get the funds, Sanders replied, “That is why we are encouraging property owners to ‘self- mitigate.’
Beddow, says he has applied for and received three grants (Forest Service) totaling over $1million and is currently laying down mulch on over 1100 acres of the Pinals to slow erosion in some of the hardest hit areas. The difference between the high burn severity areas and moderate he says is that in the moderate areas the root mantle of the vegetation still exists and new growth is already showing up.
A resident who lives in Icehouse Canyon asked what happens if the crossings are taken out by flooding. With nearly 60 crossings throughout the three canyons, Sanders says they can only hope that the County and its’ partners have the manpower, equipment and as much advance warning as possible to “clean it as it comes.”
The best case scenario from many I talked to on Monday night is that the first rains of the season will be light soaking rains which would allow the mountain to “settle” and limit the rate of flows.
A hard rain would undoubtedly leave destruction in its wake.
With the first rains scheduled for Monday and Thursday of next week, we will know soon enough.
Writer, photographer. Passionate foodie, lover of good books and storytelling. Lives in Globe. Plays in the historic district. Travels when possible.