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El Vado Dam
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Location of El Vado Dam in New Mexico
Country United States
Location Rio Arriba County, New Mexico
Coordinates 36°35′41″N 106°43′58″W / 36.59472°N 106.73278°W / 36.59472; -106.73278
Owner(s) U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
Dam and spillways
Type of dam Earthfill
Impounds Rio Chama
Height 229.5 ft (70.0 m)
Length 1,326 ft (404 m)
Dam volume 608,000 cu yd (465,000 m3)
Spillways 2x
Spillway type Concrete overflow, service
Spillway capacity 17,800 cu ft/s (500 m3/s)
Creates El Vado Lake
Total capacity 196,500 acre⋅ft (242,400,000 m3)
Catchment area 492 sq mi (1,270 km2)
Surface area 3,200 acres (1,300 ha)
Maximum water depth 167.1 ft (50.9 m)
Power station
Installed capacity 8 MW

El Vado Dam impounds the Rio Chama in the U.S. state of New Mexico, about 105 miles (169 km) north-northwest of New Mexico's largest city, Albuquerque and about 80 miles (130 km) northwest of the capital city of Santa Fe. The earth-filled structure forms El Vado Lake, a storage reservoir for the Middle Rio Grande Project.


The El Vado dam was originally built by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District as a storage facility for irrigation water to be used in the Middle Rio Grande Basin. Construction began in 1933 and the dam was completed in 1935. Impoundment of the reservoir, which filled by 1936, inundated El Vado, the largest town of Rio Arriba County. The town's name meant "the crossing" in Spanish, and it was named so because it was an important ford and trading center on the Rio Chama during the 19th century.

The dam was rehabilitated by the Bureau of Reclamation in 1954-1955. In the 1960s and 1970s, the San Juan-Chama Project built a diversion through a tunnel from the San Juan River basin to the Rio Chama, requiring an extensive retrofit of the dam's water conveyance facilities. The outlet works at El Vado Dam were enlarged between 1965 and 1966 so that releases from the Heron Dam could pass unimpeded through the dam. The capacity of the El Vado outlet works was increased to pass 6,600 cubic feet (190 m3) per second.


The El Vado dam is 229.5 feet (70.0 m) high and 1,326 feet (404 m) long, and holds 196,500 acre feet (242,400,000 m3) of water. It has a concrete lined spillway capable of discharging 17,800 cubic feet per second (500 m3/s) of water. The dam also has a set of outlet works, capable of carrying 6,850 cubic feet per second (194 m3/s).


Owned by the United States Bureau of Reclamation, the El Vado dam serves for storage and flood-control purposes. It incorporates an 8 megawatt power generation facility owned by the Incorporated County of Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities. El Vado Lake, the reservoir formed by the dam, has 3,200 acres (1,300 ha) and is surrounded by El Vado Lake State Park. The lake is a popular location for swimming, fishing and recreational boating.

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