USA Drinking water contamination news brief – Bonito Lake is ‘ruined’ – No longer safe drinking water source due to Little Bear fire.

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News Brief
July 13, 2012

The material posted is courtesy of
Dianne Stallings, Ruidosonews, Photo Header, Erik LeDuc, Save the Water™ Water Research Education Dept. and is shared as educational material only.
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Bonito Lake ‘ruined’

Dianne Stallings Posted: 07/10/2012

Flooding dumps ash, silt into water source

Once a fishing and camping retreat among cool Ponderosa pines, Bonito Lake today is filled with silt and ash from the Little Bear Fire and is no longer viable as a drinking water source for the city of Alamogordo.

The odor of charred trees and rotting fish permeates the air.

“The lake is ruined,” Justin King said. “It will take several years of major dredging to correct this. It’s holding more than 40 feet of silt.”

Crews working around the lake are focusing on keeping the level below the spillway to prevent more damage downstream, he said Tuesday during a multiple agency morning briefing.


“We have three pumps working the lake now, moving 10,000 gallons per minute, but we’re unable to keep up with the inflow,” King said. Two more pumps will be installed by Wednesday to increase the pumpage to 20,000 gallon per minute, he said.

“We had the lake down 18 feet below the spillway, but with the three rain events, it’s up to 5 feet, 6 inches below today. Yesterday alone, it went up 18 inches,” King said. “The goal is to maintain the water below the spillway, so all we have to be concerned about are the lower reaches of the Bonito (River). If for some reason it does come over the spillway, it’s, ‘Katy, bar the door,’ because there is no way we can handle those flows down the stream. We’re really trying to keep take level down so we can continue to capture everything coming from North Fork and South Fork.”

Pipelines removing the water, silt and ash are being run down the spillway and along the roadsides. While the fire that approached the lake stayed mostly on the ground, reaching only one area of the canopy, it devastated the drainages and canyons leading into the lake. Wherever the funding originates, “We’re not going to stop pumping,” said Don Scott with the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Response. If one source runs out, the dollars will come from either the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or the city of Alamogordo until new contracts are in place.

Warning to Residents

Residents and visitors must be alert even in areas outside the burn zone, King said.

“The springs will begin running again like they haven’t since the 1970s with the increased aquifer recharge,” he said. “All those canyons and drainages were here for a reason. This county used to flow water.”

People who have no business on Bonito Lake Road or in the recreation areas run by the city at West Lake or the U.S. Forest Service at South Fork should stay out. Heavy equipment is operating, many workers will be on foot and the road is down to one lane.

“Drivers should have their headlights on and not exceed 15 mph,” Scott said, adding, “Contractors who can’t behave with their speed need to be pulled off the mountain. Some have been hot-dogging because no one is up there.”

Beth Mitchell, with the U.S. Forest Service and a member of the Burned Area Emergency Response team, said additional law enforcement officers have been requested to heighten security.

“We are keeping a ‘hard closure’ of the burn area in place and have several additional officers on order and they should be in as soon as possible for more security,” she said. “We’re in a support function for this operation when you need help. With the fire activity nationwide, I don’t know how many we will get.”

Recovery after Fire

Mitchell said despite the rain, seeding, and mulching on vegetation stripped land is proceeding with just a few delays waiting for windows in the weather to fly.

More than 19,000 acres are being seeded and 11,000 acres will be mulched on top of the seeding, which will consist primarily of annual barley and native grasses.

“Barley sprouts within three to four days and will help stabilize the soil, reduce runoff and erosion, and reduce impacts downstream from these rains on private land, roads, bridges, and infrastructure,” she said. The seeding/mulching approach has been found to be as much as 90 percent effective for recovery after a fire, she said.

State Environment Department officials are sampling drinking water sources and to date have not found “bad” bacteria. But sample bottles for residents with written instructions on how to sample and where to drop off the samples were to be available late Tuesday at the Little Bear Recovery Center on New Mexico 48 in the former Mormon Church.

Debra Ingle of Greentree Solid Waste said she moved debris containers to Villa Madonna subdivision and Monjeau, but they are stuck up there because the road washed out.

“Asbestos still is a problem and we are providing bags for containment,” she said. “Seventy-one percent of these homes are asbestos. People are trying to bury (debris) along the river in locations they shouldn’t and we will be stopping that today. Please remember asbestos is out there and should be handled correctly.”

Public Awareness of Flood

Michele Caskey, Lincoln County public information officer, said she was scheduled to talk about the flood preparations on three different radio programs that day. “We’re trying to do our radio blast every morning and that’s working,” she said. “We expect as water levels start to rise to receive more calls from residents. We have two PIOs working on information lines, 258-4636. Anyone with questions should call right here. We’re at the command center and know what’s going on with the most up-to-date information.”

As the water level rises in streams, more television news crews from outside the county will begin to show up, she said. Caskey asked section leaders to report their locations to her and to escort them out of any unsafe situations. “We certainly don’t want any news crews being swept downstream today,” she said.

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