Irrigation district seeks siphon solution

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Corrales farmer Anthony Wagner stands beside the dry side irrigation ditch at Sandoval in early June. Farmers in the village are asking the local irrigation district to replace an old siphon which prompted the agency to install temporary pumps and pipes. (Chancey Bush/Albuquerque Journal)

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The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District is investigating how to repair or replace a broken siphon that has strained Corrales’ irrigation water supply.

Low river levels and high-maintenance equipment hampered this summer’s temporary solution to aging infrastructure.

Earlier this year, after finding a hole in the siphon, the district installed two diesel-powered pumps and buried pipes to bring water from the river directly into the main channel of Corrales.

Longtime Corrales farmer Anthony Wagner said growers in the village want the district to build a new siphon and return consistent water to apple orchards and chili fields. “We would hate to lose all of that.”

Recent rains have kept river levels high enough to keep pumps running.

But sediment and debris often clog water intakes. Burning diesel near the bosque is also a fire hazard.

Wilson & Company engineers proposed at least seven project options to the district.

The 1,200-foot-long Corrales Siphon, built in 1933, goes under the river and uses gravity to move water inland west of the Rio Grande.

Engineer Tyler Ashton said the team still needs to clean the siphon before recommending a final fix. “There’s just too much sediment, so we can’t figure out what the actual state is inside that siphon right now,” Ashton said.

Repair options include:

⋄ Siphon liner: $4-6 million

⋄ Build a new siphon: $4M to $9M

⋄ Permanent pumping station: $6 M to $8 M

⋄ New river diversion: $4M to $6M

Projects that involve working in the Rio Grande will result in costly and time-consuming environmental assessments.

The MRGCD funds the design work.

Diesel pumps and pipelines near Siphon Beach delivered water from the Rio Grande to Corrales irrigators this spring and summer after a siphon ruptured. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District is considering several options to repair or replace the siphon. (Chancey Bush/Albuquerque Journal)

But state money will likely be needed to build a permanent solution, said Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert, a Republican from Corrales.

“If you’re in Corrales every day when things are going well, there are always people looking for fresh fruits and vegetables,” Powdrell-Culbert said. “It’s very important to us and it’s important to our community.”

Corrales Democratic Rep. Daymon Ely said he would help the district work with the PNM on an easement agreement to electrify temporary water pumps for next year.

Amid the crippling drought and siphon problems, the district had strongly encouraged Corrales farmers to participate in a program that pays for every acre they don’t water this season.

“We need a great long-term solution and a good short-term solution to ensure that farming doesn’t get put off for the next two years,” Corrales Village Councilor Zach Burkett said. “We just can’t afford that to happen.”

The district will select a project design at the August board meeting.

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