Arroyo Management Has Dona Ana County In Over Its Head

Jul 30, 2014

Michael Mc Whirter advises a guest over for dinner on the best way to drive through the almost 2 feet of sand covering the road in front of his drive way.
Credit Simon Thompson

Michael Mc Whirter and his family bought their house near Picacho Mountain when it was one of the only properties there.

The realtor sold them on horizon to horizon views and the surrounding desert wilderness. But what wasn’t mentioned in the sales pitch was the arroyo that runs from the back to the front of the property.

“When we bought the property it was not disclosed to us that there was an issue with run off, when we bought the property it came as a surprise to us to realize that we had water swirling on the porch" he says.

The Mc Whirter's are the third family to own the home they say it should never have been built in the path of an arroyo.

So when developers proposed the Linda Vista Estates subdivision on land in front of his property, Michael Mc Whirter spoke out in opposition, in hopes the same mistakes wouldn’t be made again.

“Developers want to come in here set up a big fast subdivision make a whole lot of  money real fast get out  and move to  another state some where they can do the same thing and if you don’t have some kind of regulation telling them  they can’t  hen I don’t  know who will because that is what  they will do” he says.
At a Dona Ana County meeting regarding the proposed development Mc Whirter says the developers responded by saying the arroyo running through his property was an ‘inactive arroyo’ and the county gave the development the go ahead. 

But the arroyo is far from inactive it flooded his property during a rainstorm in July of this year.

The arroyo used to run along the fence line, but with every storm it moves closer and closer – it now runs across their porch and just feet from their home. 

Octavio Vela and his wife, live across the road. They didn’t even know the arroyo was there until after they had invested their money.  

“The little arroyo that basically comes across the street from us washed out the corner of the lot the house was under construction then and so the builder took care of the problem brought more dirt back in and refilled  part of the lot  that  had washed away.” he says.

That was in 2006 the arroyo’s path has since meandered away from their property, but its flow still leaves a lot of their street beneath up to a foot and half of silt and sand.

“We wanted a beautiful view so definitely there was some issues that – detracted from the property – we would not have bought it here” he says.

After a big rain Michael Mc Whirter says his wife can’t get her car through the layer of silt the arroyo deposits on the road.  Someone actually has to dig a path out.   Without help from a friend with a backhoe….she says that would cost around 400 dollars.

The developer has since retired, he told KRWG maintenance of the development’s roads are now the county’s responsibility. But the county won’t take over the roads because they weren’t built to county standards.

Dona Ana County Flood Commission Director Paul Dugie says the county is working to get the developer to bring the roads up to standard.  He adds that the arroyo was overlooked when the development was approved. 

Dona Ana County spokesperson Jess Williams says managing the arroyo’s flow and the threat of flooding becomes more complicated with each successive residential development.

“When those great big subdivisions do come in, if you have one that you do all the approvals on and you move the water and manage the water  and then you have smaller subdivisions downstream  you still have the issue even though you regulated the one that is up stream”

Whirter has had to take matters into his own hands, he has dug a 8 foot hole in his back yard to catch the water and built a wall made of tires and cinder blocks along the side of his property, to direct the arroyo water away from his house.

But the recent storm ripped that out of the ground and washed a lot of it away -so he is looking for a more permanent solution.

“I am in negotiation with an engineer to  build some structures probably with concrete to try and keep that arroyo within it’s historic course” he says.

Vela, his neighbor across the road is concerned that redirection would send rain water during a storm down his drive way, through his garage and into his house.

“They are trying to protect their property and the unintended consequences might be that it endangers our property” he says.

Vela says individual property owners should not have to resort to such extremes to protect their largest asset.  He says the county should have a bigger overall management plan.

County spokesperson Jess Williams says the county does have a plan that needs $6 billion dollars in funding for cited flood control improvements. He says they are prioritizing projects and doing as much as possible with the funding available.