New Mexico experienced in June two catastrophic wildfires—the Whitewater Baldy Complex Fire and the Little Bear Fire. One consequence of those fires has been flash flooding. Water runs off more quickly during rainstorms in areas where fires have stripped the landscape. These floods can happen with very little notice, endangering communities downstream.
Luckily, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has a program to help address flooding issues: the Emergency Watershed Protection program (EWP). Funding from the program paid for the installation of 13 Early Warning and Detection System (EWDS) units in New Mexico, near streams in the upper reaches of the watersheds that were damaged by fire. The units will provide emergency management officials with more time to notify about 30,000 residents in five communities of impending floods, helping to reduce the threat to lives and property.
Each EWDS unit will gather relevant data, such as rainfall amounts and flood stage levels. The data will be automatically transmitted via satellite or other signaling device to area U.S. Geological Service (USGS) offices every one to four hours during non-flooding times and more frequently during heavy rainfall.
The sensors will then transmit the data via satellite to the National Weather Service, which provides warnings through local communications channels to communities that may be affected by flooding. The sensors can provide up to 60 minutes of early flood warning.
Residents can also get notices through the USGS Water Alert service. People who have signed up for the service are sent emails or text messages (SMS) as soon as any of the EWDS units indicates the possibility of a flood.
NRCS is working with several federal and state partners to determine whether more detection units will be installed across the state.
The first 13 EWDS sites are being set up on U.S. Forest Service-managed lands. Under an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security, USGS will monitor and maintain those sites.
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