Ghost of Water: The Inauspicious end of the Alameda Lateral

Alameda Lateral, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 2020, by John Fleck

I’ve driven by the spot in the picture a jillion times in the 30 years I’ve lived in Albuquerque, and never noticed the ditch squeezed between #1 Plumbing and Air and the Chevron station on the corner of Edith and Candelaria.

My latest pandemic bike riding project involves scouring GIS data from the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the irrigation district in our part of the Rio Grande Valley, in search of abandoned ditches. The last few weekends my friend Scot and I have been piecing together the remnants of the Barelas Ditch south of downtown. This weekend we turned our attention to the Alameda Lateral, which used to irrigate the east side of what we call Albuquerque’s “North Valley”.

The air was smoky today, so it was a perfect day for the sort of lazy stop-and-go riding needed to find traces of old ditches – folded up paper maps with scribbles in my pocket along with my oatmeal cookies.

MRGCD Alameda Wasteway control structure

At the spot where I took the picture, the Alameda is just a wasteway, no irrigation water because no irrigated land “downstream” of the trash rack in the picture. A block or so downstream, it’s completely underground, but there’s an incongruous irrigation system control structure flanked by busy street, apartment complex, and construction company equipment lot. You can’t just plug an irrigation canal, you have to have a way to let the water drain out the bottom end. So whenever the Alameda downstream from here was formally abandoned, they buried a wasteway conduit to carry what was left over to the big open air “Alameda Interior Drain”, one of the most visible water features in this part of the North Valley.

Scot and I spent a bunch of time trying to find the upstream bits of the canal (our Strava GPS from the ride is hilariously squiggly), riding up and down the neighborhood streets. A lot of it is underground, passing beneath the light industrial stuff that long ago displaced the marginal agriculture that used to scratch by in this valley.

My GIS skills aren’t great, but here’s my attempt at showing this segment of the ditch:



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