Flooding triggers evacuations in Northern Arizona’s Navajo Nation

Apr 23, 2023, 7:45 PM | Updated: 8:26 pm

Chinle Wash rages in Northern Arizona. (Photo by Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren/Facebook)....

Chinle Wash rages in Northern Arizona. (Photo by Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren/Facebook).

(Photo by Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren/Facebook)

PHOENIX — Navajo Nation officials ordered evacuations Sunday for some residents of Chinle after floodwaters filled washes and overflowed berms and dirt dams.

“Our priority is life,” Patrick Sandoval, chief of staff in the Navajo Nation Office of the President, and Vice President said in a press release. “That’s the number one priority, to make sure that everybody is safe and in the best situation that we can accommodate them with.”

“What we’re facing is overflow from the lakes upstream, Tsaile Lake and Wheatfields Lake,” Sandoval added. “Those feed into the canyon which are now producing large amounts of water.”

He said the focus has been to evacuate people by the Navajo police. The Chinle Chapter is providing shelter for families who have evacuated although some residents don’t want to leave their homes.

The cause of the flood, he said, stems from a long-standing issue that over a dozen years or more the Chinle Wash has filled with silt. That has resulted in much of the wash bed being at an even level with the surrounding land, causing floodwater to crest its banks.

The tribe declared a state of emergency Jan. 19 after heavy snow hit parts of the vast reservation, which covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, leaving flooding and muddy roads.

Recent snowmelts then filled lakes and led to water runoffs in Chinle, which has a population of about 4,500.

Efforts among Apache County, Navajo Department of Transportation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs have continued over time to work on the diversion of the water to keep it out of the community, he said.

Nonetheless, he added, it’s not a plan that was engineered with solid berms to withstand repeated flooding over time.

“There’s no stopping it,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Flooding triggers evacuations in Northern Arizona’s Navajo Nation