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101-year-old northern NM dam on brink of failure

Las Vegas, NM — A century-old dam in northern New Mexico that holds a city’s water supply is riddled with holes and on the brink of failure.

About 60 million gallons of water is leaking through the 101-year-old Peterson Dam in Las Vegas every year. Consultants have recommended that the dam be raised to provide the city with 1,200 acre-feet, or more than 391 million gallons, of additional storage, a project estimated at $20 million. Its capacity is 211 acre-feet, or 68 million gallons — a small fraction of the water the city uses in a year.

The average household in Las Vegas uses 48,000 gallons of water a year.

Gov. Susana Martinez recently toured the dam, saying she would make the dam’s repair a priority in the next legislative session with a proposed $2 million in spending, the Las Vegas Optic reported.

“The people of Las Vegas have to start putting pressure on their legislators to do the right thing,” she said.

Peterson Dam is a symbol of the city’s dilapidated water infrastructure, but officials say the entire system needs an overhaul. The city already is planning stark water rate increases to pay for improvement projects that go beyond the dam and could cost $120 million over 40 years.

Utilities director Ken Garcia said the rates likely would go up 26 percent in each of the next three years, followed by a 7 percent hike in the 2015-16 fiscal year. The increase would allow the city to tap into $45 million in bond funding for the projects.

Garcia told Martinez that the proposed increases could be lessened if the city secures $10 million in state and federal funding.

Rebuilding the dam will take at least two years. In the meantime, the city will undergo a project in October to recapture most of the leaking water and pump it back into the water system.

The city and the federal government have reached an agreement to let 5 percent of the water leak through the dam to maintain a wetland that serves as a habitat for the Southwestern willow flycatcher.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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