Water managers increased the release this afternoon (Thurs. May 21) from Cochiti Dam into New Mexico’s Middle Rio Grande Valley to 3,000 cubic feet per second, which will increase flows yet more tomorrow through Albuquerque. As I explained yesterday, May storms and some clever water management twiddling with stored supplies is providing the opportunity for a seasonal “pulse” that looks like the largest spring flow since 2010.
I don’t want to oversell this. The Rio Grande is a system intensively managed for flood control and water delivery such that it bears little resemblance to the meandering flood plain river that once flowed through what is now Albuquerque. Its narrow central channel isolates the river from the flood plain that flanks it, where it once would regularly get up and spread across the land. But there have been modest human efforts to mimic the old natural system, using earth moving equipment to create channels and back waters that inundate at modestly higher flows like we’re seeing now. The managers are trying to take advantage of the natural flow from storms, with some added water they’re throwing in from storage on the Chama (releases from El Vado are way up) to create a miniature version of what the river once did by itself.
I spent the afternoon out looking at the results so far. Here’s one of the newly dug channels near Albuquerque’s Tingley Beach city park: