Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Effects of El Vado Dam repairs on area economy remain murky | Local News

The upcoming renovation of the El Vado Dam will make the lake shallower, but could raise the level of the Abiquiu Reservoir if water is diverted to it during the repairs – a process that will affect the region’s recreation and economy to an unknown extent .

As authorities clarify water issues, one thing is certain: the U.S. Bureau of Regeneration will begin the first phase of repairing the 86-year-old dam in northern New Mexico – at an estimated cost of $ 31 million – after the spring water is out the irrigation was released.

The crews grout behind the steel faceplate, weld the weakened areas, and install a synthetic lining over the entire facade of the dam to better seal off the water storage. These repairs require that the reservoir be nearly drained to protect workers and the facility.

In the second phase, the overflow of the dam will be rehabilitated and includes the construction of a concrete structure, the expansion of the slide and the installation of a new bridge. The reservoir will be able to store water at a third of its normal capacity during this project.

The first phase will take about a year and will result in NM 112 being regularly closed to allow crews and equipment to get on and off. The second phase, which would begin in 2024, has an unknown duration and cost and would require the highway to be closed while the flood relief and bridge are replaced.

David Cooper, who owns the El Vado Ranch, said the dam’s renovation will be particularly disruptive to seafarers, but it could also be a boon as construction workers come to the area.

“It’s all kind of a wait,” said Cooper. “I don’t see anything totally negative other than the boaters on the lake.”

The visitors who stay at his cabins are a mix of anglers, hikers, rafters, boaters, and people who want to enjoy the area, so the dam work shouldn’t have much of an impact on his business, he said.

The Reclamation Bureau will continue to channel water from the Heron Reservoir down the Rio Chama, bypassing the dam during repairs, so those who do fly fishing and rafting should enjoy adequate river flow for most of the time, the agency’s spokeswoman said, Mary Carlson.

The agency is trying to keep flow at at least 500 cubic feet per second when it releases water on summer weekends, but is unlikely to be able to maintain that intensity during the dam work, Carlson said.

“We’re going to shoot some kind of rafting flow, but we just don’t know if they’re going to be that consistent,” she said.

A decline would be less of a problem for fly fishermen who prefer lower river levels, she added.

Cooper agreed with the anglers, saying a shallower river would make it easier for them to wade into the water.

The dam’s worn steel lining allows water to pass through and the overflow’s steel plates have also deteriorated, prompting authorities to demand the removal of what they believe to be growing safety risks.

“We need to make repairs to keep this dam safe,” said Carlson.

Cooper said the closure of the freeway, especially for an extended period during the second phase, will force travelers to make a long detour. It might deter some people from visiting the area, he added.

On the plus side, the projects will attract construction workers who shop locally, he said, adding that it would help the area’s businesses.

In the meantime, the renovation could increase short-term water storage in Abiquiu and give the depleted reservoir a welcome boost.

Abiquiu could get some or all of the San Juan Chama water that is now stored in El Vado.

This water flows from the Colorado River basin through the state’s San Juan-Chama system, merging with the Rio Grande before diverting to Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and other users.

Abiquiu could also take water from El Vado for the pueblos.

A noticeable rise in Abiquiu water levels could bring back motorized boating on the lake, which has declined over the past decade as the ongoing drought depleted the reservoir, said John Mueller, who leads Abiquius operations for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

There is now more paddleboarding, kayaking and other non-motorized activities on the shallower lake, Mueller said, adding that fewer motor boats mean fewer fishermen and water skiers.

Many of the boaters are now heading to Colorado so a more rugged lake could draw them to Abiquiu, which would keep their dollars here and benefit local businesses, Mueller said.

“Instead of traveling further, you can go to Abiquiu and do these things,” he said.

Anita Manzanares, shift supervisor at Bodes General Store in Abiquiu, said they did well despite the decline in motorized boating, but an increase in recreational activities on the lake would help.

“That will of course bring a lot of business to our business,” said Manzanares. “It would probably extend such a high season.”

Lots of people come to hunt, hike, and fish in the rivers and keep Bode busy despite the lake’s sinking water level, she said.

However, if the deepening of the lake attracts more day-trippers, it could only benefit business, she said.

The Reclamation Bureau will consider both Abiquiu and Heron to take in the additional water, Carlson said.

This would be different from the native water of the Rio Grande that officials wanted to bring into Abiquiu. A 2020 law allowed up to 30,000 acres of water beyond Abiquiu’s normal capacity and would increase the level of the reservoir by 10 feet.

An acre foot is approximately 326,000 gallons.

But plans to divert native water to Abiquiu ran into a snag when Texas protested, saying New Mexico should not open new reservoirs while it owes the state 96,000 acre-feet and while the Elephant Butte Reservoir to the south is less than 400,000 acre- Has feet.

The Army Corps that Abiquiu oversees will not divert indigenous water into this reservoir unless the entire Rio Grande Compact Commission – of which Texas is a part – approves the plan.

The 72-year-old pact regulates water supplies between New Mexico, Colorado and Texas.

It does not affect the water that flows through the San Juan-Chama system or the water that is reserved for pueblos so that water can be stored in Abiquiu.

But Carlson said if the pueblos irrigation water ended up in Abiquiu it would be temporary, so the lake’s rise may not last very long.

“It will be held until the pueblos need it, and if they don’t need it we will bring it downstream,” she said.

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