With much of the Pecos River basin in an exceptional drought according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, now may seem like a strange time to focus on dam safety at Santa Rosa Dam, N.M. However, that’s exactly where the focus was March 15, when the District’s Dam Safety Program Manager Suzi Hess-Brittelle and Readiness and Contingency Operations (RCO) Emergency Management Specialists Don Gallegos and Theresa Rogers conducted a dam safety exercise at the dam.
The goal was to increase preparation should a significant event occur. Dennis Garcia, chief of the District’s Reservoir Control Branch, said exercises like this are absolutely vital to help ensure a successful outcome in an emergency.
“Communication is a huge part of it,” said Theresa Rogers. “Communication not just within the District, but also with first responders is important. One session of the exercise went over categories of conditions that warrant immediate attention and when and who to call based on these conditions.”
At the Santa Rosa exercise, 20 internal and external stakeholders participated including representatives from New Mexico State Police, Guadalupe County Sheriff, New Mexico Department of Homeland Security, New Mexico State Parks and the National Weather Service.
The exercise consisted primarily of tabletop discussion based on possible scenarios such as a significant rain event coupled with high snow runoff. These scenarios also illustrated the interconnectivity of the whole Pecos River Basin. Actions taken at Santa Rosa Dam have to balance the conditions at the dam with conditions along the entire river. For example, while there may be a need to reduce the water level at Santa Rosa to prevent it from spilling over the dam, too much water released too quickly could cause water to back up at other dams downstream, resulting in flooding.
Plans are in the works for further exercises to help enhance readiness, should the unthinkable happen in the river basin.