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Rio Grande Project
Rio Grande, causing the river to be dry at El Paso for more frequent and longer periods. Several small and local storage developments were proposed, but conflicting interests, including Mexico's claims for loss of water based on ancient prior right, prevented the culmination of any of them. These conflicting interests were resolved in 1904 when it was reported that a reservoir could be created by construction of a dam at Elephant Butte which would provide sufficient water to meet all requirements. The Rio Grande Project was among the first to receive attention after the passage of the Reclamation Act in 1902. Investigation surveys were begun on the project in 1903 and a feasibility report was made in 1904.
Construction of the Rio Grande Project was authorized by the Secretary of the Interior on December 2, 1905, under the provisions of the Reclamation Act, and funds were allocated to initiate construction of the first diversion unit. The Reclamation Act was extended to the entire State of Texas on June 12, 1906, following a partial extension for Engle (Elephant Butte) Dam in 1905.
Congress authorized the construction of Elephant Butte Dam on February 25, 1905. and on May 4, 1907, $1 million of nonreimbursable funds were appropriated as the State Department's share for allocation by treaty of 60,000 acre-feet of water annually to Mexico. Additional project works authorized under congressional action included Caballo Dam, a combined flood-control and power reglating structure, and the Elephant Butte power development.
Construction was begun in 1906 on Leasburg Diversion Dam and Canal. The dam and 6 miles of canal were completed in 1908. Construction of Elephant Butte Dam was begun in 1908 but progress was delayed when difficulty in obtaining reservoir land developed. Construction of the dam began again in 1912 and was completed in 1916; storage operation began in January 1915.
The Franklin Canal was constructed in 1889-90 by El Paso Irrigation Company, was purchased by the Bureau of Reclamation in 1912, and was enlarged in 1914-15. Additional project works, consisting of Mesilla Diversion Dam and the East Side and West Side Canals, Percha Diversion Dam and Rincon Valley Canal. and an extension of Leasburg Canal were constructed during 1914-19.
In 1917-18, contracts were entered into for the construction of distribution laterals and a drainage system in addition to storage and diversion works. A crtical seepage condition had developed because of the rising ground water table, and construction of the drainage system, which was begun in 1916, was expedited. During 1918-29, reconstruction and extension of old community ditches, and construction of new laterals to form a complete irrigation distribution and drainage system were in progress. Improvements have been added from time to time since 1930.
Caballo Dam was included as a flood control unit in the Rio Grande Rectification Project and part of its cost was allocated to that purpose. It made year-round power generation at Elephant Butte Dam possible and part of the cost was allocated to that purpose, but it also provided replacement for storage lost at Elephant Butte due to silt deposition. This dam was built in 1936-38, followed by construction of the Elephant Butte Powerplant in 1938-40. Construction of the power transmission system, begun in 1940, was completed in 1952.
Operation and maintenance in the New Mexico portion of the project is directed by the Elephant Butte Irrigation District. The Bureau of Reclamation as represented by the Rio Grande Project directs operation and maintenance in the Texas portion of the project. El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1 assumed the direction of the Texas portion of the project in time for the 1980 irrigation season.
The project is divided into many small farming units. Principal crops are cotton, alfalfa, vegetables, pecans, and grain.
Elephant Butte Reservoir has a surface area of 36,521 acres. Located midway between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and El Paso, Texas in scenic semidesert mountain terrain, it is popular throughout the entire Southwest for boating, fishing, and swimming. Cabin sites, boat rental, and fishing tackle are available. Caballo Reservoir has a surface area of 11,500 acres. In rough desert terrain 17 miles south of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, it provides an all-year recreation program of picnicking, boating, and fishing.
Land Areas (1977)
Facilities in Operation
Annual precipitation - 7.8 inches
Growing season - 247 days
Elevation of irrigable area - 3500-4100.0 feet
Number of persons served with project water (1977):
²Urban and suburban, residential, commercial, and industrial lands.
Engineering Data (Water Supply)
Drainage area at San Marcial, New Mexico - 24,760 square miles
Elephant Butte Reservoir - 25,960 square miles
Caballo Reservoir - 27,260 square miles
Annual discharge at San Marcial. New Mexico:
³Normal annual release from Caballo Reservoir in accordance with Rio Grande Compact is 790,000 acre-feet.
Elephant Butte Dam4
Type: Concrete gravity
Location: On the Rio Grande 4 miles east of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
Construction period: 1912-16. Spillway channel below dam added in 1921 and modified in 1947, service outlet deflectors added in 1944, powerplant added in 1940.
Date of closure (first storage): 1915
Reservoir, Elephant Butte:
Spillway: Uncontrolled concrete ogee weir and concrete-lined chute at right end of dam, with four 10-foot-diameter circular openings through base of weir, each controlled by one cylindrical gate.
Capacity at Elevation 4,415:
Outlet works: All located through dam near left abutment.
Service: Four conduits, each controlled by one 60-inch balanced valve.
Sluicing: Two conduits, each controlled by one 47- by 60-inch slide gate.
Power: Six penstock openings leading to 73-inch steel penstocks that join in pairs at the face of the dam to form three 96-inch penstocks leading to powerplant.
Capacity at Elevation 4,407:
Foundation: Hard, sound, fissured sandstone in irregular beds, containing pockets and interbedded strata of friable shale and numerous small springs throughout foundation area.
4All elevations refer to project datum; add 43.3 feet for sea level.
5 Original total constructed capacity 2,634,800 acre-feet.
Special treatment: Cement grout curtain beneath upstream cutoff trench, special grouting of fissures and springs.
Mass concrete: Crushed rock and rock screenings blended with sand for aggregate; cement a blend of portland (52%) and pulverized sandstone (48%); natural temperature control; quarried stones amount to 15% of total volume.
Volume excluding spillway - 605.200 cubic yards
Maximum size aggregate - 3.5 inches
Massive rock, maximum weight 8 tons per piece placed in green concrete.
Average net water-cement ratio by weight:
Contraction joints: Transverse joints spaced at 80- to 160-foot intervals below and 35 to 56.5 foot above elevation 4,312; faces coated with heavy oil, alternate blocks poured after initial cooling of adjacent blocks.
Type: Zoned earthfill
Location: On the Rio Grande 17 miles south of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
Construction period: 1936-38
Date of closure (first storage): 1938
Spillway: Concrete-lined open channel in left abutment, controlled by two 50- by 22.5-foot radial gates.
Elevation top of gates (includes 1.5-foot splash plate) - 4183.5 feet
Outlet works: Concrete-lined tunnel through left abutment controlled by two 6- by 7.5-foot high-pressure slide gates. A 30-inch-diameter steel pipe located below tunnel invert and extending from gate chamber, controlled by one 30-inch gate valve, serves the Bonita Lateral.
Foundation: Gorge cut in compact red clay-bound conglomerate refilled with river deposits.
Special treatment: Cement grout curtain beneath cutoff walls; supplemental grouting of abutments.
Picacho North Dam
Type: Zoned earthfill
Location: On the North Branch of Picacho Arroyo about 5 miles northwest of Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Construction period: 1953
Reservoir, Picacho North:
Spillway: Open cut spillway, emergency only, about 500 feet west of south end of dam.
Outlet works: Uncontrolled concrete conduit through base of dam.
Picacho South Dam
Type: Zoned earthfill
Location: On the South Branch of Picacho Arroyo about 5 miles northwest of Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Construction period: 1953-54
Reservoir, Picacho South:
Spillway: Emergency spillway consists of uncontrolled, riprap-lined open channel in right end of dam.
Outlet works: Uncontrolled concrete conduit through base of dam.
Type: Random earthfill
Location: On the Lucero Arroyo 14 miles north of Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Construction period: 1951
Capacity - 475 acre-feet
Spillway: Rectangular chute at west end of dike.
Outlet works: Uncontrolled concrete conduit through base of dike.
Percha Arroyo Diversion Dam6
Type: Rock-faced earthfill
Location: On Percha Arroyo, 1 mile west of Caballo Dam.
Year completed: 1939
6 Dike constructed to divert storm runoff into Caballo Reservoir; in connection with irrigation system.
Headworks: Flood diversion channel, no gates, highway bridge and drop chute into Caballo Reservoir.
Percha Diversion Dam
Type: Concrete ogee weir, embankment wings
Year completed: 1918
Spillway: Overflow weir, 2 radial sluice gates, each 20- by 8-feet.
Headworks: Rincon Valley Main Canal headworks at west abutment: 8 slide gates, each 4.3 by 3.75 feet.
Leasburg Diversion Dam
Type: Concrete ogee weir, embankment wings.
Location: On the Rio Grande. about 15 miles northwest of Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Year completed: 1907. Crest raised 1.25 feet in 1919.
Spillway: Overflow weir, 3 slide sluice gates, each 5 by 8 feet.
Headworks: Leasburg Canal headworks at abutment; 7 slide gates 5 by 6.75 feet.
Mesilla Diversion Dam
Type: Concrete weir, radial gate structure
Location: On the Rio Grande, 6 miles south of Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Year completed: 1916. Crest raised 1.66 feet in 1940.
Spillways: Nine radial gates, each 21.58 by 6 feet; 4 radial gates, each 21.58 by 8.42 feet.
Headworks: Canal headworks at each abutment. 8 slide gates, each 4.33 by 3.75 feet at west end; 6 slide gates, each 4.33 by 3.75 feet at east end.
American Diversion Dam 8
Type: Radial gate structure between river levees
Location: On the Rio Grande at El Paso, Texas.
Year completed: 1938
Spillway: Thirteen radial gates, each 20 by 7.5 feet
Headworks: American Canal headworks at east abutment; 2 radial gates, each 20 by 11 feet.
Riverside Diversion Dam
Type: Concrete weir, radial gate structure Location: On the Rio Grande, 15 miles southeast of El Paso.
Year completed: 1928
Spillway: Six radial gates, each 16 by 8.17 feet. overflow weir.
Headworks: Riverside Canal headworks at east abutment; 5 radial gates, each 16 by 6 feet.
7 These are the flood discharges which the International Boundary and Water Commission is using for the Rio Grande Channelization Project at the indicated points and are not necessarily the maximum which the dams will pass safely, nor which they were designed to pass.
8 American Diversion Dam and Canal constructed and operated by American Section, International Boundary and Water Commission, United States-Mexico, for the diversion and allocation of water in accordance with treaty between the United States and Mexico.
Rincon Valley Main Canal
Garfield Flume (Rincon Valley Main Canal)
Hatch Siphon (Rincon Valley Main Canal)
Rincon Siphon (Rincon Valley Main Canal)
East Side Canal
West Side Canal
Elephant Butte Powerplant
This web document was created from sections of a Bureau of Reclamation Project Data book dated May, 1981.