$20M expansion of leaking Las Vegas dam scuttled

December 24, 2012 • State News

LAS VEGAS, N.M. (AP) — A $20 million plan to increase the capacity of a leaky dam that supplies drinking water to Las Vegas has been scuttled because engineers found the costs would be much higher than expected.

The city hoped to significantly increase the capacity of the Peterson Dam and fix leaks that have plagued it for years. But an engineering report presented to city officials earlier this month found the site’s geology meant the project’s costs would go up by millions of dollars and could lead to even more leaks.

That left city officials scrambling for options because Las Vegas needs increased storage to avoid rationing during severe droughts, according to a report (( in the Las Vegas Optic.

The City Council is now setting its sights on increasing the capacity of the city’s second reservoir and plugging the leaks at Peterson Dam.

“We had to switch gears [auth] quickly just because of the legislative session,” Utilities Director Ken Garcia said at an emergency Council meeting last week. The city faced a Thursday deadline for submitting funding proposals to the state.

The city is shifting its focus on the Bradner Dam. While the city had been hoping to add 1,200 acre feet of storage at Peterson, the Bradner option could add 2,700 acre feet of additional storage at an estimated total cost of about $28 million — about $8 million more than the city had planned to spend on the Peterson project.

The city now expects to spend about $1.7 million to fix the Peterson Dam leaks and to do safety work to minimize a chance the dam will fail during a flood. About $700,000 is on hand for those jobs. The failure issues would be addressed by expanding the dam’s concrete base. Among the options being considered for plugging the leaks at Peterson is the installation of an impervious liner, a project that would be cheaper to complete if the dam were empty, city officials said.

The 101-year-old dam loses an estimated 60 million gallons of water a year through leaks, although the city is mitigating some of that loss through a pump-back system.

The city’s previous plan to increase storage capacity at Peterson had gotten significant traction. Albuquerque television stations featured the leaky dam in their newscasts and Gov. Susana Martinez had thrown her support behind the project. She even visited the dam in July and urged lawmakers to make the Peterson project a priority.

Mayor Alfonso Ortiz said the Bradner project will actually be better in terms of cost per acre foot of storage gained.

But Dodge noted that the Bradner project will also need to pass a series of reviews before construction could begin.

The city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a preliminary engineering report to study its entire water system and come up with options for fixing the aging water infrastructure. It’s that process that led to the Peterson project being ranked first on the city’s priority list.

Increasing the city’s water storage capacity is crucial if it is to avoid shortages during major droughts..

Las Vegas gets 90 percent of its drinking water from the Gallinas River and can now store only about four months of annual demand. City consultants have said the city should work to have two to three years of water storage to help it survive a prolonged drought.

The city currently has the capacity to store about 1,000 acre feet of water. An acre foot equals 326,000 gallons, enough to service two to three residences for a year.

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