Native American Owned Small Business Leads Effort To Restore Nambé Reservoir
Nambé Reservoir is an important source of water for the entire Pojoaque Valley, and in recent years it has been hit hard by flooding caused by runoff from upstream fire damage and heavy rains. Water rights in the area have always been a touchy subject between tribal, state and federal officials. The Aamodt Water Rights Settlement, signed in 2013, resulted from multi-party negotiations that included four northern New Mexico Pueblos, the State of New Mexico, the federal government and the City and County of Santa Fe. It settled the Pueblos’ water rights claim in the Pojoaque Basin, and Nambé Pueblo was at the heart of the matter since the reservoir bordered its lands.
Now, an unprecedented collaborative effort is underway to restore Nambé Reservoir after the damages it sustained during disaster occurrences in 2011, 2013 and 2014. High Water Mark, LLC, a Native American owned floodplain and watershed management company, is leading the charge to restore Nambé Reservoir back to pristine condition. High Water Mark is a recent Native American Venture Acceleration Fund winner, receiving funds to purchase GIS and flood routing software that will help them assist tribal and non-tribal communities in northern New Mexico recover from natural disasters and prevent unnecessary flood damage in the future. Los Alamos National Security, LLC, the company that manages Los Alamos National Laboratory, established the Native American Venture Acceleration Fund in 2011 to accelerate growth in northern New Mexico pueblo communities.
After the Pacheco Fire in 2011, a Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) report outlined the ideal reconstruction scenario for the Pueblo, but it was too costly. After a report is delivered,
applicants for federal funding assistance have a period of three years to apply, receive and start the rehabilitation. When Phillip Perez became Governor of Nambé Pueblo in
2012, he immediately went to Washington, D.C. to advocate for funding from Congress.
He met with the Bureau of Reclamation, USDA and FEMA. What he found out was that Nambé’s situation was complicated and the path forward was not going to be a simple
one ––the Pacheco Fire occurred on wilderness land managed by the Department of Agriculture, and Nambé Reservoir is under the operation and maintenance of Pojoaque
Valley Irrigation District with the Bureau of Reclamation overseeing the reservoir operations. The Reservoir borders tribal land – Nambé Pueblo, which is under the
jurisdiction of the Department of Interior, with the Bureau of Indian Affairs overseeing tribal lands adjacent to the reservoir in the recreation area – and both are downstream
from the wilderness area.
Governor Perez continued to try and solve the funding puzzle, meanwhile, heavy rains triggered flooding in 2013. In October, 2013, Nambé Pueblo declared the event a natural disaster, which was quickly followed by the disaster declaration EO 2013-031 by New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez. The tribe was given one week by the State and FEMA to quantify the damages from the most recent event to determine if the Pueblo met the threshold for FEMA public assistance funding.
That’s when Governor Perez brought in High Water Mark to assist with the restoration efforts. A stakeholder meeting was called, attended by Pojoaque Valley Irrigation District, the BIA, New Mexico’s FEMA office and the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. This first meeting set the stage for what would be an unprecedented collaborative effort to rehabilitate the reservoir and recreation area.
A federal disaster declaration (FEMA 4152-DR-NM) by President Obama secured funding for both the Pueblo and Pojoaque Valley Irrigation District. High Water Mark owner Phoebe Suina and her business partner Ryan Weiss found themselves leading the rehabilitation efforts to restore the Nambe Reservoir and recreation area to its prior condition. They had to maneuver between the Nambe tribal council, the Pojoaque Valley Irrigation District, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, FEMA, the NM Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and all of the stakeholders based in New Mexico.
“It was a delicate balancing act between the Pueblo, Pojoaque Valley Irrigation District and the various federal and state agencies involved,” said Robert Apodaca, a subcontractor for High Water Mark. “In the end, we were able to dredge approximately 65,000 cubic yards of sediment from the reservoir utilizing local contractors, which provided for additional storage capacity, but is really just the tip of the iceberg.”
“With a tribe the size of Nambé, we didn’t have the resources to rehabilitate the area without outside assistance. High Water Mark has been very good to work with – Ryan and Phoebe are knowledgeable and their expertise is helping us not only rebuild, but to prevent another flooding occurrence,” said Governor Perez. “I’m very pleased with the way it has gone.”
More flooding occurred in the fall of 2014, and additional disaster funding was secured from FEMA for both the Pueblo and Pojoaque Valley Irrigation District. “The recreation areas are being worked on now,” said Ryan Weiss of High Water Mark. “We’re looking for more funding to put debris flow and flood mitigation measures between the wilderness area and tribal lands above the reservoir, which is still barren due to fire and flood damage.”
“We have more work to do,” said Governor Perez. “The tribal council has decided to close the entire recreation area for the season until we can finish the removal of hazardous trees and the repair of the road. We’re continuing with reconstruction through FEMA, and the recreation area will soon look like a construction site. But – all in all, the reservoir in its current state is night and day from where we stood in 2011. It’s a very, very good start to all of our rehabilitation efforts.”