Prioritizing dam safety and repairs - Albuquerque Journal

Prioritizing dam safety and repairs

Watersheds, rivers, acequias and community ditches are all vital parts of our water systems, but dams are perhaps the most important pieces of water infrastructure.

The critical nature of dams does not involve just water delivery so much as water storage.

In a best-case scenario, dams hold spring runoff in lakes and reservoirs for delivery in drier summer months. Dams are a crucial component of the complex system by which the state administers water to users and meets its delivery obligations to other states.

Lakes and reservoirs also provide recreational value through camping, boating and fishing.

In a worst-case scenario, some of New Mexico’s dams are a potential nightmare. When a levee or dam fails, thousands of gallons of water can flood the areas below it, threatening property, livestock and human life.

In rural areas, the primary consequence is that the water contained by the dam is no longer available. As our cities and suburbs have crept into what once was agricultural land, the potential for loss of life from a dam failure has grown.

It is an easy problem to overlook: most dams appear to be sturdy enough. Upon closer inspection though, many of our dams are old and in desperate need of upkeep.

In fact, the Office of the State Engineer maintains a list of dams in New Mexico, classifying the hazard potential and condition of each locally, privately and state-owned dam. The shocking thing is that 179 dams in the state are in poor condition, with another five listed as unsatisfactory.

Scarier still is that two of those five carry a high hazard potential, meaning that dam failure or misoperation will “probably cause loss of human life.”

Many dams classified as being in poor condition also carry a high hazard potential.

To be fair, most of the dams on the state engineer’s list are relatively small and in rural areas, whereas many of the larger dams are maintained by federal agencies. Also, a number of the “poor” designations are for dams without adequate design information; they could be fine, but we just don’t know.

There is, however, some good news: New Mexico is in an excellent position to address these concerns. Recent estimates indicate the state expects almost $800 million in new money this year.

State agencies and advocates from every corner of state government are asking for budget increases. I have no doubt most of those requests are valid.

Still, if we are serious about protecting several of our state’s most vital resources — water, land and people — the state must further commit to funding dam restoration and repair. Some work has already been done on dams across the state, so the problem has not been ignored so much as under-prioritized.

While I believe that the total cost of addressing this issue is significantly more, I plan to introduce a bill in the 2020 legislative session to appropriate $100 million for dam repair and renovation. Our water and our safety are too precious for us to ignore any longer.

(State Sen. Pete Campos is a Democrat representing District 8, which encompasses portions of Colfax, Guadalupe, Harding, Mora, Quay, San Miguel and Taos counties. He resides in Las Vegas, N.M.)

Home » ABQnews Seeker » Prioritizing dam safety and repairs

Insert Question Legislature form in Legis only stories

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email

taboola desktop

ABQjournal can get you answers in all pages


Questions about the Legislature?
Albuquerque Journal can get you answers
Email addresses are used solely for verification and to speed the verification process for repeat questioners.
APD: Three killed at house party
ABQnews Seeker
Three young adults were killed and ... Three young adults were killed and a girl was injured at a shooting during a party in northeast Albuquerque early Sunday morning. It took ...
Meateor Burgers to close at end of June
ABQnews Seeker
Business was going well for the ... Business was going well for the burger joint in the 505 Central Food Hall. But the business partners found out several weeks ago that ...
New Mexico's free child care program a lifeline for ...
ABQnews Seeker
More than 40,000 families around New ... More than 40,000 families around New Mexico are eligible for free child care, based on income. However, only about 1 in 4 of those ...
Police searching for suspect in woman's slaying
ABQnews Seeker
Albuquerque police are searching for a ... Albuquerque police are searching for a man who they said killed his ex-girlfriend this weekend. Police said they responded to the home of Julias ...
Albuquerque police arrest ATV driver who was allegedly doing ...
Albuquerque News
APD says the ATV driver crashed ... APD says the ATV driver crashed in Southwest Albuquerque after hitting three vehicles, then jumped onto a motorcycles that fled.
A raucous meeting in 1973 may have been the ...
ABQnews Seeker
City Councilors Renée Grout and Louie ... City Councilors Renée Grout and Louie Sanchez are co-sponsoring a proposed City Charter amendment that would retain the nine-member council elected by districts. But ...
Former Archbishop of Santa Fe dead at 83
ABQnews Seeker
The Archdiocese of Santa Fe announced ... The Archdiocese of Santa Fe announced late Saturday that former Archbishop Michael Sheehan has died.
Prince says he struggled with decision to leave United
ABQnews Seeker
Zach Prince's tenure with New Mexico ... Zach Prince's tenure with New Mexico United ended on a sudden and emotional note. Eleven games into his second season as head coach and ...
Española woman bites into cocaine baggie after ordering Sonic ...
ABQnews Seeker
A woman who ordered a hot ... A woman who ordered a hot dog from the drive-thru on Tuesday got a mouthful of cocaine when she took a bite.
Woman dies while in the custody of the Metropolitan ...
ABQnews Seeker
A woman died at an Albuquerque ... A woman died at an Albuquerque hospital early Friday morning after being transported from the Metropolitan Detention Center — the state's largest jail where ...