Sierra County’s flood and drainage master plan will serve the public for years to come

by Kathleen Sloan | January 5, 2021
5 min read
The six locations of the county's top priority flood control projects are indicated on this topographical map. Map courtesy of Wilson & Company

Sierra County recently completed a year-long, $400,000 flood and drainage master plan that charts existing conditions, identifies six major watercourses that threaten populated areas and provides specific engineering solutions to protect the six areas against floods. 

The Sierra County Commission approved the plan via resolution at the Dec. 15 meeting to satisfy granting agencies’ preference for funding projects detailed in engineering studies that have been formally endorsed by a governing body.  

The master plan was totally funded by a state capital outlay grant, awarded in fiscal year 2018-2019, County Manager Bruce Swingle told the county commission. The county request for proposals to conduct the planning was awarded around November 2019 to Wilson & Company, a national firm, with engineers from the company’s Las Cruces office doing the work.

The commissioners had been briefed on the master plan at their Nov. 17 meeting by Wilson & Company Project Manager Eric Hamilton and Christie Soulsby, project engineer.

The first part of the master plan mapped the flow of flood waters through Sierra County from 53 water basins, some originating beyond the county’s boundaries. The second part of the master plan identifies the top six areas with the most population and the most flooding. Plans offering several alternatives for improving infrastructure and increasing runoff capacity were prepared for each of the six sites.

Map pinpointing the location of the 53 water basins that course through Sierra County
Planning began with studying the flow of flood waters through Sierra County from the 53 water basins indicated on this topographical map. Map courtesy of Wilson & Company

Wilson & Company’s Hamilton said the total cost for improvements at the six sites is about $11 million. Figures given in the company’s presentation for the six “preferred” alternatives—which were not the most costly options presented—add up to only about $6.5 million.  

In an interview with the Sun, Hamilton said incorporated areas, such as Truth or Consequences and Elephant Butte, were excluded from the county’s top six sites. These incorporated areas can use the plan’s applicable maps of water basins to save money on preliminary engineering reports for their own drainage and flood control projects.

Improvement plans for the six major water-course sites will each be used in separate grant applications, Hamilton said. Granting agencies require engineering plans to be “updated every five years,” he noted. If the county doesn’t finish all six projects within that time, updating these plans “won’t cost much.”

At each of the six sites, the initial goal, Hamilton said, was to protect populations from 100-year storm events. Further investigation revealed that achieving this goal would not be financially feasible for some of the sites, since prohibitively expensive earthwork to change the water flow of arroyos up- and downstream would be required.

A 100-year storm event has a 1 percent and a 50-year storm event a 2 percent probability of occurring in any given year, Hamilton said.

The site plans for the six major water courses, ranked in order of need and flooding risk, are as follows:

Bridge of Grace

Bridge of Grace culverts
Additional culvert cells to be added to the major Alamosa Creek crossing on the road to Monticello at a cost of nearly $1 million will protect against five-year floods. Rendering by Wilson & Company.

The “Alamosa Creek–Bridge of Grace” project is Sierra County’s top capital-outlay request in the upcoming legislative session. At a recent conclave of local and state representatives to discuss these requests, County Manager Swingle described the bridge “as the major ingress and egress point for Monticello.”

The current structure protects against two-year flood events, which have a 50 percent chance of occurring in any given year, so the road over the bridge frequently floods out, preventing travel.

The cost estimate is nearly $1 million.

Cross Canyon Road

The plans for the “Alamosa Creek–Cross Canyon Road” project state the current structure—a crossing with five 72-inch culverts—protects against two-year flood events.

The preferred alternative plan recommended by Wilson & Company would remove the existing structure and then install a crossing over three aluminum culverts that are one foot higher and much broader than the existing culverts. Protection from five-year flood events would be the result.

The estimated cost is about $2.85 million.

King Canyon Arroyo

There are four culverts under State Route 187 that disburse water over a broad area that eventually drains into the King Canyon Arroyo. The western bank of the King Canyon Arroyo has a man-made earthen berm that slows the flow of the water from the culverts.

The preferred alternative plan proposes to channel the flow of water from one of the culverts by lining the natural gully with wire-enclosed riprap. It also proposes to strengthen King Canyon Arroyo by “armoring” the existing berm and lining a part of its floor and sides with wire-enclosed riprap. The result will be protection from 100-year storm events.

The estimated cost is about $864,000.

Cuchillo Negro Arroyo

At the point where County Road AO07 crosses the Cuchillo Negro Arroyo there is no structure protecting against flooding, just a low-water crossing.

The preferred alternative plan proposes to line the arroyo’s south side with wire-enclosed riprap. It also proposes to build a culvert with two 72-inch culvert pipes to carry water under AO07. The result will be protection from 100-year storm events at the crossing.

The estimated cost is about $812,000.

Las Palomas Creek

At the point where Las Palomas Canyon Road crosses Las Palomas Creek there is only a low-water crossing.

The preferred alternative plan proposes to install two 36-inch reinforced-concrete pipes under the roadway. The result will be protection from 100-year storm events.

The estimated cost is nearly $320,000.

Wilson & Company also recommends raising the road. The additional work would increase the project’s cost to nearly $650,000.

Animas Creek

The banks of the creek are destabilizing where Animas Creek Road runs close to Animas Creek. The proposed plan would shore up the western bank with wire-enclosed riprap. The banks could then withstand a 10-year storm event.  

The estimated cost is nearly $270,000.

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at or 575-297-4146.
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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

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