With a $150,000 appropriation from the state legislature and an anticipated joint powers agreement between the Village of Corrales and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD), a plan to transform the Corrales Interior Drain will be developed over the next two years. The 1.9-mile drainage ditch and ditch bank roads along it east of Corrales Road are owned by the Conservancy District which has long conceded that it no longer functions as intended when it was excavated in the 1930s. The property covers about 26 acres with an average width of 120 feet. It runs from Valverde Road on the north to the Corrales Riverside Drain on the south, just beyond East Meadowlark Lane.
Village government will soon contract with a landscape architect to plan future uses of the long strip of land that forms a green belt between Corrales Road and the Corrales Bosque Preserve. Signing of a joint powers agreement with MRGCD is a necessary first step. The proposal was added to the Village’s infrastructure capital improvement project (ICIP) list last year. As requested, the 2022 N.M. Legislature appropriated $150,000 “to plan, design and construct a multi-use area along the Corrales Interior Drain.”
Going back decades, the Conservancy District has expressed willingness to close in the ditch, which no longer functions as intended, and transfer ownership to the Village of Corrales. A committee was established by former Mayor Jo Anne Roake in 2020 to explore that possibility and make recommendations.
Members of the Interior Drain Committee have discussed keeping some stretches of the ditch open, while other parts might best serve the public filled in. Among possible uses of the green belt space are a trail from the east end of Corrales Elementary School property to the Corrales Recreation Center by way of Priestly Road, a butterfly garden and a water line for the Fire Department to use in fighting fires east of Corrales Road.
At its May 10 session, the Village Council approved a two-year extension for Interior Drain Committee to make recommendations. The resolution adopted reaffirms the committee’s mission “to identify and help to implement ways in which the Interior Drain and its right-of-way may be improved for safe, enjoyable and essential public use while maintaining tranquility for adjacent residents.”
At that meeting, the council also re-appointed the following committee members: Doug Findley, who serves as chairman, Lou Murphy, Jeff Radford and Sayre Gerhart. A new member, Elena Kayak, was also appointed.
Following the May 10 Village Council meeting, Village officials met with an MRGCD representative who said it would send a draft joint powers agreement for the Interior Drain by the end of the month. Village Clerk Melanie Romero said that JPA “will grant the Village the authority to move forward with plans for improvements to the Interior Drain area.”
A former Corrales Planning and Zoning Administrator, Taudy Miller, has had a major role in moving the project along, such as working with state legislators to secure the $150,000 funding. In a January 2022 letter to State Senator Brenda McKenna and State Representative Daymon Ely, Miller pointed out that “the funding will pay for survey, planning and design to complete a master plan for the full length of the drain with phase one design funding. Once design is completed, we are confident that the shovel-ready project will successfully secure additional federal funds for construction phases as the plans fit nicely with trails, safe routes to schools and re-purposed transportation fund initiatives.”
A power point presentation for the legislators and others explained that “Corraleños currently use the ditch banks as trails for running, biking, horse riding, fishing, walking to school and more. The ditchbanks will support these activities, and could provide seating areas, safe trains and connections to nature.
“The green corridor provides ecological benefits for many birds and animal species by providing habitat and food sources.”
For more than a year, the committee solicited public comment about the idea, including tabling at Sunday Corrales Growers’ Market events. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXX No.7 May 22, 2021 “Corrales Interior Drain Presents Diverse Opportunities” with a centerfold photospread showing all sections of the ditch.) Public outreach included distribution of a survey to learn what villagers desired for the property.
The committee chairman, Doug Findley, is a son of the founder of the Corrales Bosque Preserve, the late Jim Findley.
The survey sent to residents near the drain asked what changes, if any, should be considered. The cover letter accompanying the questionnaire explained its purpose.
“The Corrales Interior Drain was constructed in the 1930s to lower the water table and reclaim flooded farmland. The Interior Drain runs from East Valverde Road south to the Corrales Clear Ditch and Bosque Preserve, culminating just south of East Meadowlark Lane. The 26 acre, 120-foot-wide drain is owned and maintained by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy.
“Today, the Interior Drain serves many uses, providing access to homes, farms and the elementary school, recreation for biking, horseback riding, hiking, fishing and bird watching. It is a vital nature sanctuary with entry to the Bosque Preserve.
“In recent years, use of the ditch banks along the Corrales Interior Drain have given rise to concerns about increased traffic and associated dust and potential contamination of water in the drainage ditch.
“Concerns have been raised about children’s safety especially as they walk or ride bicycles along the ditch going to and from Corrales Elementary School. Villagers have long thought about how the ditch right-of-way might serve community uses while maintaining MRGCD property ownership and drainage mandate.
“In 2020, Mayor Jo Anne Roake appointed The Corrales Interior Drain Committee tasked to make recommendations on the drain’s uses, preservation and potential.
“Since the Village of Corrales has no ownership in the land involved, the committee acknowledges that its eventual recommendations would need concurrence from the MRGCD to be implemented. The district’s chief concern is expected to be retaining full use of the ditch and ditchbanks to perform routine maintenance.
“One of the first things the committee did was to document what is physically in the ditch and on the ditchbanks, how the land is now used and what adjacent features should be taken into consideration, such as homes, trails and Corrales Elementary School and the playground there.
“Suggested opportunities for future use of the ditch that runs from Valverde Road on the north to East Meadowlark on the south, include a Fire Department fire suppression water line to fight fires east of the drain; horse riding; hiking; children’s access to school grounds; a pond; a green corridor for appreciation of nature and wildlife habitat; a butterfly garden; and improvements in air quality for neighbors as a result of reductions in dust.”
In a presentation to the mayor and Village Council last year the committee identified three distinct kinds of terrain in and along the ditch: dry, or xeric, water zones and areas where ponds could be developed.
In the presentation, the pond zone was described as “a calm and relaxing gathering space [that] might include bridges and viewpoints for the community,” while the water zone would be the wet part of the existing ditch that “could be used for community activities and support the central Corrales Road section of Corrales.”
The presentation to the council included a proposal to establish a public butterfly garden that would show a connection to Native American heritage related to the Corrales area. The people of Santa Ana Pueblo referred to this area as “the place of butterflies.”
According to the committee, “We envision the butterfly plants along the length of the ditch, a thematic constant in the master plan design.”