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Diversion channel features faux ‘volcano’

Paul Evans, who works for Bernalillo County, gets footage of the man-made volcano that rises like an island from the middle of a newly completed diversion channel at Interstate 40 and 98th Street. Runoff from heavy storms will cause the volcano to jet water into the air. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

The “Three Sisters” volcanoes on Albuquerque’s West Side just got another sibling.

Unlike the others, which resulted from fissure eruptions that occurred more than 100,000 years ago, this newest volcano is man made and rises 17 feet into the air from the bottom of a storm water diversion channel on the north side of Interstate 40 at 98th Street.

The volcano is a water feature that highlights the end of the fourth and final phase of the West I-40 Diversion Channel Project, said Bruce M. Thomson, board chairman of the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority, or AMAFCA.

During a Tuesday celebration along the channel, with the volcano in the background, Thomson said the overall $33 million project began in 1974 and was completed in phases. The goal was to intercept and divert runoff that historically reached the South Valley and caused flooding.

The final phase of the project, costing $4.1 million and funded by AMAFCA and the city of Albuquerque, diverts runoff from the north side of I-40 from the top of Nine Mile Hill east to the Rio Grande, a distance of about seven miles.

Included in this final phase was construction of more than 4,000 feet of channel, more than 6,000 feet of multi-use trail running alongside the channel, and the volcano, which is 50 feet in diameter at the base and was created from reclaimed lava rocks and boulders from the local area.

AMAFCA chairman Bruce M. Thomson on Tuesday talks about the completion of the final phase of the West I-40 Diversion Channel Project, which features a man-made volcano that will “erupt” with storm water runoff. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Runoff collected upstream from 98th Street runs through a pipe to the top of the volcano. A heavy downpour can cause water to be jetted 12-16 feet into the air. The water then runs down the side of the volcano and continues racing southward through the channel and eventually drains into the Rio Grande, Thomson said.

The concrete channel replaces a sand-bottomed arroyo that was eroding and threatened to undermine the I-40 roadway, as well as threaten homes in a residential neighborhood just to the north of the arroyo.

Rather than simply construct a gray, concrete, trapezoidal channel next to I-40, “where people leaving town would have that as their last impression of Albuquerque, or people arriving would have that as their first impression,” Thomson said AMAFCA tasked its staff to come up with “some aesthetic feature to soften the impact of the structure.”

The volcano uplifted out of that challenge.

“I’m pretty sure Albuquerque has the only storm water volcano in the world,” he said.

Other West I-40 Diversion Channel partners include Bernalillo County, the New Mexico Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration and several private land owners and developers.