Major delays to a years-long water project affecting New Mexico farmers

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – There are major delays in a years-long project that affects critical water supplies for New Mexico farmers. Work has been underway at El Vado dam since 2021, but now planners have to go back to the drawing board and farmers will have to wait even longer for their water.

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The conservancy district heard from the Federal Bureau of Reclamation on Monday, which is in charge of the project. Last year, the project had to be placed on hold after water leakage was detected and they discovered the damage was far greater than anticipated.

“I have heard firsthand some of the noises that were coming from the dam as we were implementing the grouting behind the faceplate,” said Jennifer Faler with the Bureau of Reclamation.

The feds conducted a 12-year study on the dam between 2007 and 2019, concluding the dam had problems with seepage and needed repairs to the spillway. Construction began in 2021 to address the problems, but construction ran into some big problems. For one, grout patches intended to stop seepage did not do their job. On top of that, crews discovered the dam’s steel faceplate and underlying supports were in much worse condition than originally thought.

Those in charge of the project decided it was necessary to stop the work and regroup. “In the meantime, the contractor has received a notice of termination and we are negotiating all of that,” said Faler.

This comes as a huge blow for farmers along the Rio Grande, who rely on the water stored at El Vado. Since construction began, that water storage had to be diverted to other nearby dams that can’t hold nearly as much. The earliest the dam was expected to hold water for farmers was 2026 or 2027, but after these latest discoveries, that has been pushed back.

In Monday’s meeting with the conservancy district, the bureau did say they are working to find a new solution and get some water back in the dam by next year, but they are still not sure how much it might be able to hold. The Bureau of Reclamation said they are hoping to resume construction in the next three years.

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