Gophers flood ‘The Farm’

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Thanks to pesky gophers, residents off of Park Place Drive in Bosque Farms woke up to a hell of a morning Monday.

Properties on Truman, Mason and Lawson circles, east of Park Place, were submerged by several inches of water in the pre-dawn hours, following a break in the Peralta Main Canal.

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District employees pump water out of Melissa Starks’ frontyard Monday morning after a break in the Peralta Main Canal. Gopher activity in the wall of the canal proved to be the cause of the break.

The ditchbank, maintained by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, was the victim of an explosion of gopher activity, said Belen Division Manager Eric Zamora.

“We’ve been out talking to people, lending an ear. So far, people have been very reasonable,” Zamora said.

On Mason Circle, Victor Terrazas woke up just before 5 a.m. to get ready for work. Instead of a morning cup of coffee, he was startled awake by several inches of water on his bedroom floor.

“At first we thought the water heater had broken,” said his wife, Louisa Armijo.

When they realized the water wasn’t coming from inside the house, Armijo said they opened the sliding glass door in the bedroom to look outside. More water poured in.

“I could hear the water rushing and bubbling as it soaked into the ground,” Terrazas said.

Instead of going to work, the couple pulled out the wet-dry vacuum and set to work sucking water out of the carpet. Just after 10 a.m., Terrazas emptied the 10-gallon canister for the fifth time.

The first-time homeowners bought their house a little more than a month ago, from friends, Laura and Raymond Maestas. They live in Albuquerque now and rushed down when Armijo called about the broken ditchbank.

“I couldn’t believe it. At first I thought she was joking,” Laura said.

She grew up in the house and her parents lived there for nearly 40 years without a hint of a problem from the nearby ditch.

“But my father lived in fear of it,” she said. “He always said if it broke, we’d be flooded because the ditch is higher than the property.”

As Armijo and the Terrazas cleaned muddy water off their floors, they kept a positive attitude about the whole thing.

“It’s not the end of the world,” Armijo said. “Worse things could have happened.”

Her husband joked with Laura and Raymond. “Yeah, thanks for selling us this house. It was a heck of a deal.”

Most of the neighborhood is mobile homes, set up on pilings. The house Terrazas and Armijo purchased had the bad luck of having a ground-level addition.

While they continued the cleanup, their neighbor, Melissa Starks, picked her way across her muddy yard to check on the contents of her detached garage. Everything in there looked dry and while there was still a large puddle of standing water in her frontyard and a brand-new sinkhole in the back, Starks said nothing looked damaged.

She said she woke up around 4:30 a.m. to the sound of someone blowing a car horn.

“They would not let up,” Starks said. “I looked outside and saw water on the ground. I thought it had rained, but then I realized it wasn’t rain.”

Her property was underwater up to her mid-shin. District personnel pumped most of the water off her property and back into the canal, but there were several large pools left behind.

Crews spent most of the morning going south along the side streets off Park Place, pumping water back into the canal and into tanker trucks to be hauled off and returned to the irrigation system elsewhere.

The gophers that caused all the mayhem live in colonies similar to prairie dogs, Zamora said, and are an ongoing battle for the district — hence the bounty on their tails.

“We are actually over budget on gopher tails right now,” he said. “I think maybe because of the mild winter, we’ve seen an explosion in their population.”

Zamora said the exact amount of water lost through the break can’t be determined, but he estimates about 8 to 10 acres were covered in an inch to three inches of water.

Zamora said fewer than five structures had interior water damage.

By mid-morning Monday, district dump trucks were filling the break and getting the canal back in working order. On Tuesday afternoon, Zamora said all that remains of repairs is for the district to send a small bulldozer out to re-blade the ditchbank road. A crew also will check for any residual gopher holes.

Flood cleanup by the district is limited to public right-of-ways and the ditchbank itself, he said.

“When it comes to damages because of the break itself, there is a process our insurance company has lined out,” Zamora said. “The homeowner needs to take any necessary actions to remedy the problems, and then file a claim through the Albuquerque office.”

The Albuquerque office, at 1931 Second St. SW, can be reached by phone at 247-0234.

The district maintains the ditch system regularly, Zamora said. “Unfortunately, the best way to find gopher activity is to have a leak,” he said, adding there have been small breaks in ditches.

As people are out and about on the ditchbanks and irrigating their property, Zamora asks that they keep an eye out for gopher activity and report it to the Belen office at 864-7466.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.