New trees along river could cost county $615K
July flood wiped out thousands of plants
Santa Fe County could spend an additional $615,000 to repair a multimillion-dollar treeplanting and river restoration project in the Santa Fe River that was decimated by the historic flood that overwhelmed the city in July.
According to a proposal, the county might also take an additional $100,000 to cover an engineering damage assess-
ment of the area between Siler Road and Frenchy’s Field where the floodwaters wiped out all of the 150 cottonwood saplings and battered the thousands of young willow trees county workers had planted along the banks of the riverbed.
By June, the county had planted some 15,000 willow stalks and roughly 150 cottonwood saplings in that section of the riverbed as part of the Santa Fe River Greenway Project. This segment of the project was “99% completed,” according to a county memo.
The construction costs of the project to reshape and beautify the riverbed were $3.76 million, the memo stated.
The additional $615,000, which county commissioners will consider Tuesday, would bring the construction budget costs to $4.4 million. The additional expenditure will be partly covered by an insurance claim the county negotiated, said Scott Kaseman, the Greenway Project manager.
Both city and county officials initially worried the early summer drought that struck Northern New Mexico would leave the trees high and dry. Torrential floods arrived shortly thereafter. A severe downpour July 23 swamped homes, businesses and infrastructure, compelling Mayor Alan Webber to declare a state of emergency. The Greenway Project trees were a casualty as water and debris washed out the banks of the river and crushed or uprooted them.
“The project was never designed to withstand something like that,” Kaseman said. “We needed some time for normal moisture to just allow everything to settle and fill in the voids in the rock structures, and to get the vegetation, which really holds everything together. We didn’t have a chance for any of that.”
Similar plantings were installed at San Ysidro Crossing several years ago, Kaseman added, and those survived the flood because their roots had time to grow deeper.
“Unfortunately this phase didn’t have that luxury,” he said. “This is what happens. Horrible.”
All of the cottonwoods and most of the willow stalks will be replaced. “It restores the project to the pre-flood condition,” Kaseman said.
The new plantings are expected to be in place by February. Kaseman said the county and its construction contractor won’t do much different to mitigate the risks of another wipeout in the unlikely but still possible event of a similarly overwhelming flood. The plantings need to be situated where they were before to receive the benefits of regular rainfall and river flow.
“There was a 100-year-plus event [on July 5] and they did fine; they all did OK,” Kaseman said. “We just need a little time before the next major rain event like we had.”
Commissioner Anna Hansen, whose district includes the river segment, said she plans to urge contractors to be proactive.
“It was a so-called 1,000-year flood, but a 1,000-year flood seems to happen about every 50 years, or less, and they could happen more often,” she said. “And we want to be prepared.”
Willows and cottonwood trees were planted earlier this year on the banks of the Santa Fe River between Frenchy’s Park and Siler Road, but a storm wiped them out in July.