Corrales Mayor Jim Fahey says the village will need to come up with a safety plan quickly to keep people away from Siphon Beach in Corrales while work is being done to mitigate erosion on the west bank of the Rio Grande.
“We need to work out a safety plan,” he said during a presentation on the Bureau of Reclamation’s plan to stabilize the riverbank where high water flows this spring washed away about 140 feet of the river bank just north of the siphon. “As much as we try, you know somebody is gonna go down there.”
During the village council meeting on Oct. 24, Fahey said he had a real concern that someone would fall in the river if the area wasn’t sectioned off. They can put up signage, but, “There’s always someone who doesn’t get the message.”
He asked for the bureau’s help, and any help the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District could provide, in providing signage and taking measures to keep people from wandering to where they may be at risk.
The plan would need to be put in place soon. Robert Padilla, a supervisory hydraulic engineer with the Bureau of Reclamation, said that the bureau hoped to get started on the project “in the next several weeks.” If all goes as planned, work to stabilize the riverbank would be completed by the end of the year.
Padilla said the work was a short-term solution. He said there is a long-term plan in development aimed at shoring up the riverbank from the Corrales Siphon down river to the Harvey Jones Channel River Outfall.
As it stands now, Padilla said there was about a 50-50 chance there would be more erosion to the riverbank, noting that the erosion could migrate toward the siphon and its drains.
“This isn’t an exact science; that’s why we’re putting it in,” he said.
But Padilla said the bureau has dealt with similar circumstances in other places along the river, including upstream at Santa Ana Pueblo, and was confident the project would keep the river bank from eroding further.
The short-term fix involves using riprap windrow, a method that requires hauling in a large amount of rock. He said truckloads of rock would come from Bernalillo down US 550, NM 528 and into Corrales to the site at the north tip of the village.
During discussion of the issue, Councilor Zach Burkett asked whether the long term plan would displace existing hiking trails along the Corrales side of the river.
Padilla said he anticipated that public use could be limited and acknowledged that some trails could be affected. But he said the long-term plan would improve habitat.
While the west river bank stabilization project might take just a few months, work to repair the Corrales Siphon is expected to last all of next year and into 2025. It’s a popular place for recreationalists, equipped with a boat launch popular with kayakers and intertubists.
“Would anybody be able to recreate in the siphon area?” Councilor Sturary Murray asked Padilla.
But Fahey answered instead.
“I would say no… At least not until spring,” he said.
Fahey said Corrales Fire Department personnel have to respond whenever there’s a rescue event on the river. CFD personnel were kept busy with water rescues this year, causing Fire Chief Anthony Martinez to go so far as to post staff at the site to educate recreationalist and be in close proximity when a rescue call came in.
Jason Casuga, CEO of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, which manages the irrigation system along the river and who was there to speak about the status of the siphon project, addressed the question about whether recreation would be allowed.
“At the end of the day, yes,” he said, adding that there would be some limitations. He said MRGDC has already had conversations with Chief Martinez about the matter.
Mayor Fahey committed CFD to working with MRGCD and other agencies to keep the area safe for everyone.
“It’s a team effort,” he said.