Photos: Abiquiu Lake, March 2022

This page in our free multimedia library features photos of Abiquiu Lake, which impounds the Rio Chama in northwest New Mexico.

Situated between the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan ranges, the reservoir covers 5,200 acres when full. The earth embankment dam has a crest length of 1,800 feet and rises 340 feet above the streambed, at which point its crest is just 30 feet wide.

Like so many reservoirs in the American Southwest, Abiquiu Lake has been depleted by an ongoing megadrought, which has been especially severe in the Four Corners region.

“Abiquiu Lake water levels are unusually low resulting in additional unseen underwater hazards,” according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the lake. “Boaters are advised to use extra caution when navigating the reservoir with motorized vessels.”

When built, the primary purposes of Abiquiu Lake were flood control and sediment storage. Authorized by Congress in the Flood Control Act of 1948, the project was constructed from 1956 to 1963. In 1976, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers entered into an agreement with the city of Albuquerque, and the lake began to take on a new role: water storage. A decade later, the dam’s height was increased by 13 feet and its emergency spillway was widened from 40 to 80 feet.

Flows of the Rio Chama have been augmented by transmountain diversions that transport water from the San Juan River, part of the Colorado River Basin, into the Rio Grande Basin. The San Juan-Chama Project, built by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from 1951 to 1976, provides irrigation water for 92,479 acres and helps supply water to Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

In January 2022, the Albuquerque Journal reported that New Mexico “is pursuing an emergency request to use Abiquiú Reservoir for Rio Grande water storage as El Vado Dam undergoes extensive repairs.”

Learn more

Hannah Grover, “ISC looks at Abiquiu Reservoir to ease storage constraints while El Vado undergoes repairs,” New Mexico Political Report, November 18, 2021.

Theresa Davis, “NM eyes Abiquiú Reservoir for vital emergency water storage,” Albuquerque Journal, January 28, 2022.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “Abiquiu Dam History.”

DateMarch 31, 2021
LocationAbiquiu Lake, New Mexico (map)
CreditMitch Tobin/The Water Desk
RightsFree to reuse under Creative Commons license.

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