By Nick Worth
Nearly everyone in Navajo County agrees that recent rainfalls have been a blessing, but for all the good the rains have brought to the normally parched county, there is also a downside.
“The monsoons have been long,” said Assistant County Manager and Public Works Director Homero Vela. “We’ve had a lot of water.”
Rain gauge data from the 30 rain gauges located around Navajo County back up Vela’s claim.
Of those 30 gauges, only nine have shown a lower average in the three-month period of June through August, compared to the same months last year.
The Little Colorado River (LCR) Rain Gauge at Winslow showed a total rainfall for that period of 2.96 inches, compared to 3.43 inches last year. The LCR gauge at Holbrook also showed a slight decline, measuring 2.32 inches, as opposed to 2.49 last year.
The LCR gauge at Joseph City was way up, recording 4.60 inches this year over 2.71 last year and the gauge at State Route 66 at Joseph City followed suit, with a measurement of 4.13 inches for June through August, compared to 2.72 in 2012.
The Navajo County Complex in Holbrook received 2.96 inches of rain this year, a little over double the 1.46 inches in 2012.
According to the Silver Creek Rain Gauge, 5.99 inches of rain fell there during June through August this year, up slightly from 5.35 inches last year.
“Last year’s average for all gages was 1.77 inches,” said Vela. “This year the average is 2.19 inches, indicating a wetter year than last year.”
Vela pointed out the averages and rainfall amounts recorded by the gauges have a wide variance depending on the locations.
“Monsoon events tend to be localized, so you can see a big difference between the gauges,” Vela said.
According to Vela, the downside of the wet monsoon season is that the rains have taken a toll on a lot of roads in Navajo County.
“There has been flooding everywhere in the county,” Vela said, noting that the rains have caused problems from the far north county to the south, with areas of Pinetop-Lakeside, Heber-Overgaard, Snowflake, Taylor and the Concho Highway area experiencing flooding on some roads and neighborhoods.
Vela said there have also been some Forest Service roads washed out in the Heber-Overgaard area.
“The Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe have had more severe road damage than anywhere else in the county,” Vela said. In the hallway outside his office is a map of the reservations with photos of washed out and damaged roads taped to it, and arrows pointing to the areas depicted.
Some reservation roads are damaged from the area north of Shonto, the Hard Rock area and to the northeast of Twin Buttes.
“Our hands are full,” Vela said. “Our crews are working on repairing roads daily.”
Navajo County road crews are working on the reservation roads in conjunction with the Navajo Nation Department of Transportation (NDOT) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).
Some of the photos outside Vela’s office show half a road collapsed and washed away, while others show a roadway turned into a running river, or a deep cut straight across a road from water running across it.
Even though some damage has occurred, Vela said it could have been a lot worse.
“We have not had a lot of severe micro-bursts, storms that dump five inches of rain on one area, like we have in the past,” Vela said. “There have been no reports of unusual rainfall in short periods of time.”
He said Heber got a half-inch of rain last Sunday that flowed over some roads.
“That amount of water doesn’t damage roads, but it put some water in garages, so we go out there and see what we can do to help,” said Vela.
He also explained the reason for some of the flooding.
“The ground gets saturated from rainfall and then we have water standing,” he said.
Vela said monsoon damage to roads is to be expected.
“We turn our attention to monsoon repairs at this time of year,” he said. “We have a 12-month calendar and in August and September, we don’t burden our team with construction projects, so we’re free to do repairs.”
Vela said the county roads team works closely with the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office to post signs and control traffic in areas where over-topping (water running over the roadways) occurs.
Such was the case two weeks ago when four inches of water ran over Highway 77 at the county complex for about 45 minutes following a storm.
In those instances, Vela said the county follows a procedure.
“We halt the traffic while the water is flowing, or we may reduce the roadway to a single lane,” Vela said. He noted the strategy has been working well this rainy season.
“We’ve been successful in keeping the roads open.”
By Nick Worth