Officials address Conchas concerns

By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer

conchascrowdQCS photo: Thomas Garcia
The Big Mesa fire station in Conchas was filled with residents who attended Saturday’s meeting with concerns and questions about Conchas Lake water levels.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New Mexico State Parks and Rep. Dennis Roch met Saturday with more than 100 Conchas residents to address low water levels at Conchas Lake.

“The Corps is very concerned about the low levels at Conchas Lake,” said Carl Martin, the corps’ chief of lake operations and assets branch.

The current elevation of Conchas Lake is 4,154 feet, which is 46 feet below the spillway. In March there was an inflow of 486 acre-feet with 668 acre-feet being lost to evaporation.

Martin said the corps wanted to address some of the concerns the public had raised concerning water loss. He said one point he wanted to clarify is that there will always be a loss at Conchas or any other dam.

“There will always be loss of water due to seepage,” Martin said. “This is the case at any dam, you simply can not prevent this from happening.”

QCS photo: Thomas Garcia
Drought conditions and evaporation have caused the declining water level at Conchas Lake.

Martin said the amount lost to seepage is five times less than that lost yearly due to evaporation and the current drought conditions. He said recent work on three of the six floodgates at Conchas Dam has reduced the amount of seepage by 27 percent.

Martin said there was concern the corps knew of a leak and had elected not to fix it and were going to let the lake drain.

“Allowing the lake to drain is not in the corps master plan for Conchas Lake,” Martin said.

Martin said the corps’ inspection of the three remaining floodgates was halted due to an obstruction in concrete tracks used to slide a 7,000-pound bulkhead into place.

Martin said the cost of completing the inspection could range between $300,000 and $1.7 million. He said the seepage would be reduced, though the loss to evaporation would continue to lower the lake level.

The continued decline of the lake level has prompted concern from Big Mesa Water Co-op, which supplies water to residents from the lake.

“The one thing which will help the most is rain,” Martin said.

Residents were also concerned about the closure of the North Side and South Side boating ramps.

While camp grounds remain open on the north operated by New Mexico State Parks, the campground and access to the shore to the south side maintained by the corps remains closed.

Several residents expressed concern about completing repairs to the docks and finding a way to reopen them by Memorial Day weekend. With limited space and no ramps to launch boats, the community would miss out on possible recreational revenue, they said.

The state parks system is working on acquiring a permit to remove a hazard on the north boat ramp while it can be addressed, said Jarred Langenegger, Region II manager for New Mexico State Parks.

Langenegger said they must have a permit to conduct any type of work on the ramps. He said they would look into possible temporary solutions to open the ramps for Memorial Day.

“The primary concern the state parks has in reopening the ramps is that of public safety,” Langenegger said. “We have to be sure any measure taken would be safe for the park patrons.”

closedQCS photo: Thomas Garcia
The blocked access to the south side campgrounds at Conchas Lake is an all to familiar sight for the residents.

Roch said the residents had already taken a huge step towards finding a solution by coming together and holding the public meeting. He said he approached Gov. Susana Martinez to see if state funding is available to complete the work on the three remaining floodgates help reduce seepage.

Roch said he contacted the Office of the State Engineer two years ago and inquired about points of diversion north of Conchas Lake by those who have water rights. He said those north of Conchas had senior water rights giving them access to the water before those around Conchas. The have placed a water master in that area to monitor their diversions to make sure they are legal.

“Those with senior water rights have a legal claim to the water,” Roch said. “Though there needs to be monitoring to ensure there are no illegal diversions taking place which would restrict the flow of water to those with rights down stream.”

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