Fire season in New Mexico has many chilling meanings. There are the
immediate impacts - loss of homes, devastation of wildlife habitat, loss of
vegetation, and alteration of most features we think of when we visualize
our mountain lands. At the Natural Resources Conservation Service, fire
season has another meaning for it can mean a time to mobilize resources to
protect the land and people from the aftermath of fires through Emergency
Watershed Protection (EWP).
When disaster strikes and the Natural Resources Conservation Service is
called in, the first task of the conservationists on the ground is to
assess the damage to the watershed. The immediate threat is flooding,
for the land no longer has the vegetative cover to hold back New
Mexico's torrential monsoon rains. To size up the situation, NRCS staff
assess the size of the watershed to determine its capacity to generate
large volumes of water. The characteristics of the soil such as
permeability and depth are judged. The intensity of the burn is
assessed, for low intensity fires generally regenerate vegetation
without special treatment while high intensity burns often respond more
quickly when reseeded and mulched. Slope is a factor for the steeper and
longer the slope, the greater the risk from soil erosion and drainage
problems. And finally local climate and the potential for
"gully-washers" must be considered.
EWP is designed to resolve
imminent hazards to life and property caused by fires and other natural
disasters. NRCS may follow the assessment with EWP construction cost sharing
depending upon a number of circumstances, including the availability of
All EWP work must reduce threats to life and property. Furthermore, it
must be economically and environmentally defensible and sound from an
engineering standpoint. All work must present the least expensive, and
generally restore the area to pre-disaster conditions.
EWP work is not limited to any one set of prescribed measures.
Following a case by case investigation of the work needed, EWP funds may
be used to remove debris from stream channels, stabilize road culverts and
bridges, reshape and protect eroded banks, correct damaged drainage
facilities, stabilize levees and structures, revegetate damaged areas, and
purchase floodplain easements on lands subject to frequent flooding.
EWP work must be sponsored by a public agency of the state, tribal,
county, or city government. Conservation or other special districts may
sponsor the work. Public and private landowners are eligible for
assistance but this work must be part of the project proposed by the
Through EWP, NRCS reduces the imminent threat to life and property by
providing assistance to prevent further damage from flooding, runoff, and
erosion. This assistance protects homes, businesses, and other properties
from further damage during subsequent storms. NRCS can typically pay up to 75
percent of construction costs of eligible emergency treatments. The
remaining 25 percent must come from local sources and can be in the form
of cash or in-kind services.
EWP rules allow for up to 75% federal assistance in completion of planned
works of improvement in most of the state, and up to 90% cost share is
allowed in limited resource counties where:
(i) Housing values are less than 75 percent of the State housing value
average (currently tied to the 2000 Census of Population and Housing value
for New Mexico, $69,800); and
(ii) Per capita income is 75 percent or less than the National per capita
income (currently tied to the 2000 Census of Population and Housing value of
(iii) Unemployment is at least twice the U.S. average over the past 3 years
based upon the annual unemployment figures (available from the US Department
of Commerce, Bureau of Labor and Statistics,
Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program).
For additional information about EWP in New Mexico contact Roger Ford,
State Conservation Engineer, at (505)761-4430 or Roger.Ford@nm.usda.gov.