City of Belen moving forward for drainage ponds to help with runoff

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One more piece in the flood mitigation puzzle is coming into place.

Belen City Councilors approved an ordinance to enter into a 20-year loan agreement with the New Mexico Environment Department for $1,011,364 that would be used to plan, design and construct two much-needed ponds.

Councilors approved the agreement July 15.

However, city officials are waiting to see if the New Mexico Department of Transportation Commission will approve a land transfer to the city of the estimated five acres of land where the ponds will be placed, said Mario Juarez-Infante, associate vice president for Wilson & Company, Inc., Engineers & Architects.

These flood control facilities, on the west side of Interstate 25 and Camino del Llano, is another step in Belen's drainage master plan, which outlines steps to prevent erosion and flooding issues created by West Mesa runoff.

"We can't stop the rain, but we can be better prepared, have more mitigation in place," said Councilor Wayne Gallegos.

The city also received $450,000 in capital outlay funds from the Legislature for the construction of these ponds, Juarez-Infante said.

Construction, which was delayed this year, is expected to begin the spring of 2014 and completed before the 2014 monsoon season, he said.

Safety questions from the NMDOT regarding the ponds' close proximity to the interstate delayed building the ponds, Gallegos said.

"We had to show them how they were going to be built, how they weren't going to be a danger to the freeway or anything like that and that the water contained in there will only be filled so high," he said.

The ponds are one piece of the city's proposed drainage system, still in the planning stages.

They will drain into the Belen Highline Canal east of Belen High School and a channel leading to the Bosque Drain. The city is in the planning stages to create this connection, but Gallegos said these steps have to be phased out due to their high cost. He estimates this final phase will cost more than $1 million.

"From there (water runoff) takes its natural path into the river, but to get it there properly, we have to take all of these steps, because now we're dealing with regulated water and we have to follow certain laws to release it," Gallegos said.

As part of this project, the city joined with Belen Consolidated Schools last year to fund the expansion of an existing pond on the southeast corner of the Belen High School campus.

That pond serves as a spillway structure, which controls how much water can spill into the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, while giving the city a discharge point for the collected water.

Once the drainage system is complete, it will capture storm water runoff released from the West Mesa and slowly discharge the water collected from heavy downpours in a series of ponds.

The drainage system also will be connected to underground drains and coverts, along Camino del Llano, to stop the water from traveling down the street and into businesses and homes.

"What we're trying to do, as a city, is to protect the city, to regulate runoff in some manner, where it doesn't do what it's been doing," Gallegos said. "The seed has been planted and hopefully it will take off after this."


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