EDITORIAL: ABQ's arroyo/ditch ban should save lives

·2 min read

Aug. 5—Albuquerque city councilors found common ground on legislation that could actually save lives when they overwhelmingly approved an ordinance this week outlawing camping and other activities in arroyos.

At least 12 bodies have been recovered from the city's flood control system in the past five years, with 26 swift-water rescue callouts in that time. By this time last summer, five people had been swept away in two separate flash-flooding incidents — four of them died.

The City Council voted 8-1 Monday night for an ordinance making it illegal to camp, drive vehicles or otherwise be inside publicly owned or maintained arroyos, drainage channels and ditches.

Despite their dangers, people getting swept away in fast-moving flood waters has been almost an annual occurrence. We're fortunate we haven't had any this year.

The ordinance requires police to first give violators a written warning before issuing a possible $500 citation or making an arrest. In cases of immediate danger, officers need only give a verbal warning before taking stronger action. That's a prudent exception because flood waters can fill a channel in a matter of seconds.

"There are people going into arroyos for lots of reasons; none of them are good," said bill sponsor Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn. She's right. The best way to keep people safe around arroyos is to keep them out of them.

The ordinance gives law enforcement previously unavailable authority over arroyos and is a better solution than the installation of a $4 million flash flood early warning system city leaders were mulling last year.

Those who walk, skateboard, play or camp in arroyos are not only risking their lives: They're also risking the lives of first responders who could have to try to fish them out.

The ordinance heads to Mayor Tim Keller's desk. He should sign it promptly.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.