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Los Alamos Reservoir - Dam Restoration - DPU 
Home > County Projects > Public Utilities Projects

Updated: November 2015
Reader Recap: While construction work for the Los Alamos Canyon Dam project began in March 2011 project work was suspended due to the Las Conchas fire and post-fire flooding in September 2011 and again in 2013. Reconstruction of the Dam was completed in the summer of 2013.
Did You Know? The Los Alamos County Council has expressed interest in restoring recreational access and amenities at the LA Reservoir once DPU's dam rehabilitation work is completed. The Los Alamos Dept. of Public Utilities' reservoir rehabilitation work is funded in part from water rates (along with disaster assistance grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency). Hence DPU's work is tightly aligned with the purpose of obtaining low cost water from this surface collector system. For our community's recreational needs, look to Los Alamos County's GRT-based funding for continued development of this asset for recreational purposes.  

Access to LA Reservoir Closed as of Nov. 9, 2015 - Jun. 2016.

Project Scope (as of fall 2015)

Repair disaster related damages caused by the federally declared flood disaster in 2013.  Dredge sediment and debris that filled the Los Alamos Reservoir.  Reconstruct the washed out access road. Install a pedestrian bridge over the dam's spillway.   Los Alamos County Council has expressed interest in restoring the recreational access and amenities at the LA Reservoir once DPU has completed the aforementioned repairs to the road and reservoir.  

Project Updates

As of November 9, 2015 - Access to the Los Alamos Reservoir is closed to pedestrians and motor vehicles beginning November 9, 2015 through June 2016.  Heavy equipment will be mobilized at the site to begin draining the reservoir.  Crews will then dredge the sediment and debris from the reservoir, reconstruct the access road, and install a pedestrian bridge for the dam's spillway.  DPU's intent is to have the reservoir operational by the summer of 2016. Read the press release.

As of June 19, 2015 - DPU has settled on a scope of work with FEMA.  Funds are obligated to dredge the reservoir and reconstruct the access road. Reconstruction work will begin in the Fall 2015 with work anticipated to be complete by spring 2016.

As of June 1, 2014.  The Spring 2013 flooding event was declared by the U.S. President to be eligible for disaster assistance funding.  Los Alamos County has applied for such funding and is working through the State of New Mexico to determine an eligible scope of work and appropriate funds to complete the work.

As of Spring 2013. The watershed area that feeds into Los Alamos Canyon was severely burned by the June 26, 2011 Las Conchas fire. As a result, post-fire rains have flooded the Los Alamos Canyon Dam construction site -- silting up the lake bed, plugging outlet works, washing out the access road, and damaging an emergency by-pass channel that was constructed after the fire for the purpose of diverting water from the dam area.


ROUGH ROAD.  The access road leading up to the reservoir after recent rains shows flood damage.  DPU's access road contractor, Meridien, Inc. has made the road passable as of July 18, 2012.


FILLED TO THE BRIM.   Los Alamos Reservoir following rains in July 2012.

WINTER 2011.  This photo taken February 2011 shows the reservoir's control gate.


CONTROL GATE SUMMER 2012. Recent rains (and flooding due to the Las Conchas Fire of 2011) fill the reservoir to near capacity.  DPU's contractor cpontinues to work to mitigate the danger from future rain events.


Project Background

Prior to the Cerro Grande fire in 2000 the Los Alamos Reservoir was used as a non-potable water resource for irrigation of some County and Los Alamos Public Schools facilities, as well as a recreational facility for the community.  The Cerro Grande fire and post-fire flooding in 2001 filled the reservoir with sediment and debris making the water un-useable as a non-potable resource.  Further, DOE and the Santa Fe Forest closed the area to the public due to the unsafe conditions.

While Los Alamos County owned the reservoir, in 2000 the dam was owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Ownership of the dam was subsequently transferred to Los Alamos County which placed it under the jurisdiction of the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer (OSE).  Reconstruction of the dam was required by the OSE to meet the specifications of a high-hazard dam due to the location of the ice rink down stream. 

In 2009 the State Engineer Office, Dam Safety Bureau approved the pre-design report for the Los Alamos Canyon dam.  This report consisted of storm event hydrology modeling, downstream flood analyses (with both dam breach and overtopping), spillway design capacity determination and stability analyses of the existing dam.  The report underwent multiple iterations of review by the State, so securing this approval was a major milestone.

The formal Design Report and construction drawings were submitted to the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer (NMOSE) in the Winter of 2010. NMOSE review is complete and a permit was issued in August 2010.

Because the dam is located on U.S. Forest Service property, an Environmental Assessment (EA) was completed and a Decision Notice and a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) was issued. 

Construction on the dam began in 2011 when the Las Conchas fire swept through Los Alamos burning the watershed again.  With the dam now compromised as it was under construction during the fire, DPU built a diversion around the dam to allow stormwater run off to go around the dam and prevent it from washing away.  Post-fire flooding in 2011, however, did wash out the access road and filled the reservoir once again with debris and delayed reconstruction of the dam until 2013.  The dam was officially completed in the summer of 2013.  However, the watershed had not fully recovered and another flooding event in the summer of 2013 washed out the access road and filled the reservoir with sediment and debris. 

Project Schedule and Budget

Funding for pre-2013 construction activities came from Los Alamos County, the Department of Public Utilities, Cerro Grande Fire Assistance Act, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Water Trust Board. 

For the current scope of work to repair the access road and dredge the reservoir as a result of the 2013 federally declared emergency -

Schedule: Begin repair work in the fall of 2015 with an anticipated completion date of spring 2016.  

Budget:  Total budget for the current scope of work is $557,624.  The cost  share is as follows:  FEMA 75%; State of New Mexico 12.5%; and the County 12.5%.    

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Project Contact
Project Manager 
James Alarid 
Dept of Public Utilities