Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Elephant Butte Reservoir: Century-old dam will open to public for first time in a decade

It's been a decade since the public was allowed to walk across Elephant Butte Dam, located on the Rio Grande 200 miles south of Santa Fe. Now, on Jan. 7, for one day only, the public can again tour the dam that has played a pivotal role in New Mexico's history. Rising more than 25 stories above ground level, the massive concrete structure at Elephant Butte backs up the Rio Grande to form New Mexico's largest water body. The nearly century-old dam has played a key role in the water politics and disputes among three states and Mexico. It was part of the first major project built by a fledgling U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in the early 1900s to control flooding, resolve cross-border water disputes and supply irrigation to hundreds of farmers. Today, the reservoir created by the dam also is a primary recreation spot for sailors, boaters and anglers. "The dam really makes a lot of the agriculture in Southern New Mexico and El Paso viable," said Estevan López, director of New Mexico's Interstate Stream Commission. "Without it, the water supply would be so much more [intermittent]. Most years, the farmers wouldn't have water at the end of the irrigation season." Elephant Butte Reservoir is the Rio Grande bank account for Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Mexico. Every year, it's the place where their water debits and credits are counted. It is the delivery point under the 1938 Rio Grande Compact for water deliveries to Texas. "It ends up affecting how all the river's flow is managed all the way to the headwaters," López said...more

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