AZTEC — As the one-year anniversary of twin storms that caused approximately $1 million in damage throughout Aztec approaches, city commissioners took preliminary steps Monday night to keep it from happening again.

Commissioners approved spending $180,000 — $85,663 for 7,200 feet of Blanco Arroyo and $24,953 for 3,300 feet of Williams Arroyo — on easement studies. Of the four arroyos that run through the city, Blanco and Williams have the most private property abutting or bisecting them — 51 owners along Blanco and 16 along Williams.

The balance of that money will pay for hydrologic analysis of Blanco Arroyo to help determine what enhancements are needed, including possible replacement of outdated or undersized culverts. It was not clear Monday night whether the city plans to purchase the easements or ask the property owners to donate them.

Because they lacked proper maintenance, those two waterways greatly contributed to flooding damage in the city, according to Aztec Projects Manager Ed Kotyk.

For years, Kotyk said, maintenance of the arroyos — primarily embankment rebuilding, and brush, debris and trash removal in the waterways and clogged culverts — was done unofficially when calls from concerned residents came in.

"Right now, the city does not have legal means to maintain the arroyos," Kotyk said. "To prevent more damages to houses and streets, we need to gain access. Unfortunately, private owners aren't maintaining the arroyos. The private owners are supposed to maintain them, and there might be some private property owners who clean up trash or clear some debris, but most of them don't."

With confusion over who was responsible for the waterways' maintenance, the conditions worsened year after year.

"Sometimes the city in years past went in and did some things, but we didn't necessarily have the legal access to do so," Kotyk said. "The Army Corps of Engineers has jurisdiction over the arroyos, but much of those arroyos are on private property within city limits. This is in response to the flooding last September. We will step up and maintain them, but we need easements first."

The Blanco Arroyo is seen on Monday in Aztec.
The Blanco Arroyo is seen on Monday in Aztec. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)

Souder, Miller and Associates, in Farmington, was one of two bidding firms selected to handle the easement work and negotiate with the impacted property owners this fall. The work is expected to take two months. SMA will schedule two public meetings for each arroyo. Those meetings will be scheduled soon, officials said.

"SMA will determine the length of feet needed for each easement, measured from the middle of the arroyo," Kotyk said. "Then, in the next fiscal year, we can try to find funding for the other two arroyos, Estes and Hampton, but it's Blanco and Williams that are the ones with the most difficulty, so we decided to tackle those first."

Tammy Thompson, who lives on East Blanco Street, is one of those landowners. Her backyard is bordered on the west side by Blanco Arroyo. Last fall, her home was flooded with water and her green lawn was turned into a sandy mess after Blanco Arroyo flooded.

Thompson and her family are just beginning to enjoy their home again after more than $60,000 in repair costs. Family and friends did most of the work, she said. Thompson said that they have done some clean-up in the arroyo through the years, but have been constantly asking the city what could be done.

"In the 15 years I've been here, I've never seen so many weeds in the arroyo," Thompson said. "If the arroyo had been maintained, we would never have flooded as badly. All I want is for the city to maintain it. I'm scared now every time it rains."

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4631 and Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.