Crews begin clean-up after Belen canal breach leads to widespread flooding

New Mexico News

BELEN, N.M. (KRQE) – Crews are cleaning up after heavy rain caused major flooding across Belen. This is an issue the town has been plagued with for years. Meanwhile, it was business as usual for Ray Rae’s Barbershop in Belen.

“After being shut down through the virus we just figured, we got to do what we can to make some money,” said owner Ray Feldbusch. Despite the unusual sight of water, mud and debris covering the floor inside the nearly decade-old business, Ray said it has happened twice in the past five years.

An intense flow of stormwater slammed into the Highline Canal on Tuesday night. On Wednesday morning, Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District crews were shoveling out the sand debris left behind from the storms.

The barbershop is just one of many businesses on Main Street trying to clean up after a downpour overnight led to major flooding around town. “It was like a lake in the front. The drainage couldn’t move fast enough, I believe the high line canal ditch broke,” said Lorraine Sachs Garcia, of Sachs 5th Real Estate and Auction.

Officials measured about 2.5 inches of rain. The flooding overnight is eerily similar to the breach of the Highline Canal in 2018.

MRGCD officials say it’s their water but they are not a flood control agency and say they are also victims when floods like this happen. KRQE News 13 reached out to the Valencia County Emergency Management to figure out why this continues to be an issue. We have not heard back from them.

KRQE News 13 did speak with Senator Greg Baca and he says in 2019 the state gave the city $1.7 million to address the flooding issues but that money was never spent. The Red Cross has opened a shelter at the Dennis Chavez Elementary School. Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova says that it is still in the planning stages and will help but won’t solve the problem.

The city has put together a bigger, more permanent plan that is much more costly and will require much more help from the state. “We’re talking about $65 million for diversion channel that will keep that water from hitting the high line canal,” Cordova said.

Belen officials say there have been lots of reports of significant damage to businesses and homes. About ten people took advantage of the Red Cross shelter at Dennis Chavez Elementary School. Sen. Baca says they may also take federal help.

Baca says there is no state agency that oversees flooding in the area, he says at the very least, he would like to create a state commission to take charge of the issue so it doesn’t all fall on the city of Belen.

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