Two-Mile Dam, Santa Fe, NM

Two-Mile Dam Site, Santa Fe, NM

Two-Mile Dam Site, Santa Fe, NM

I went for a walk this morning at the old Two-Mile Dam site on the Santa Fe River east of Santa Fe, NM.

It’s two miles from downtown (hence the name), in the Sangre de Cristo foothills near the end of a road lined with wealth. Santa Fe is unusual in New Mexico as a city that has long relied on surface water. (Most cities here pump groundwater, though that is changing in complex ways.) In the late 1800s, the community built an earthen dam which must have been one of the largest dams of its day in New Mexico. The need for storage is a commonplace in this arid part of the world. If not for storage, communities and farms are limited by the available run-of-river flow in late summer, which is low. Storage allows you to cut the top off the spring runoff peak, saving it for late-season use.

Two-Mile held back 500 acre feet of water, but was rendered unnecessary in the 20th century by bigger reservoirs upstream (Nichols and McClure). In 1994, the dam was breached, leaving hilly abutments on either side of the canyon wall that one might not even notice save the park signs telling one where to look.

Breaching the dam was accompanied by a habitat restoration effort that included work by The Nature Conservancy, and today the valley floor that was once the reservoir’s bottom is home to a lovely cattail marsh. On the scale of dam breaching and restoration, it’s no Elwha, but it’s nice.