Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

City Councilor Cynthia Borrego speaks at a westside fire station. July 2021


During the Aug. 2 City Council meeting, Council President Cynthia Borrego introduced a bill that she hopes will ultimately improve safety around Albuquerque’s extensive network of arroyos. As we reported last week, four people have died due to flash flooding in the metro arroyos in the last few weeks. The tragedy has brought renewed attention to public safety and a renewed effort to improve outreach and early warnings regarding the city’s extensive ditch network. 

Borrego’s bill aims to improve public safety around the city’s ditches through outreach and education. The resolution will “encourage the Albuquerque Ditch and Water Safety Task Force to conduct a study to improve the safety of stormwater channels, arroyos and irrigation canals.”

An earlier initiative by the city in 2018 to implement an early flood warning system failed due to estimated costs that surpassed funding. The city secured a bond of $250,000 for an early flood warning system, which was expected to be completed by 2020. Estimated costs were almost $4 million, and the bond money was later used to improve flood control in Martineztown instead.

“How do we create a system if people are living in these arroyos? How do we create a system that could warn them?” Borrego asked. Before implementing an early flood warning system or any other public initiatives related to flash flooding within the city, Borrego first proposed a study to assess where ongoing public outreach efforts can improve. 

The resolution also proposes assisting and expanding on the efforts made by Albuquerque Fire And Rescue (AFR) and Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority (AMAFCA) to reach as many people as possible to warn them about the dangers of flash floods. In an interview with Borrego, she said AFR is “constantly in the channels trying to save lives. Especially during the monsoon season.” The study proposed by the bill seeks to identify and improve ongoing efforts of public outreach. 

Many of the city’s ditches have seen homeless individuals set up camp, placing themselves in danger of flash floods. During monsoon season, as observed in the last few weeks, individuals residing around these drains are in extreme danger of being caught in severe flooding.

In the proposed study that will take place from Oct 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022, the report will research and provide recommendations on:

1.) A map of the stormwater channel, arroyos and irrigation canal in 16 locations where persons regularly frequent. 

2.) Procedures or programs to guide those who attempt to inhabit 18 different stormwater facilities and irrigation canals to the appropriate housing and social services. 

3.) A security and public safety outreach program to patrol the stormwater facilities, arroyos and irrigation canals.

 4.) A report on capital improvements that can improve the safety of stormwater and the installation of flash flood early warning systems. 

5.) An estimated cost to implement the procedures, programs and capital improvements. 

Borrego encouraged the Keller Administration to consider the findings of the study at a raised level of importance in the development of the 2023 Albuquerque Capital Implementation Program. Under this plan voters would be asked to approve another bond for a new program in 2023 and money would not be available until 2024—three more monsoon seasons from now.