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Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
Current Issue: October 28, 2002
Volume 38, Number 8

UNM highlights state engineering landmarks
Civil Engineering Day Nov. 5

By Michael Padilla

Cumbres and Toltec Railroad runs in New Mexico and Colorado. Photo courtesy of ARUP Maji.Five New Mexico historic civil engineering landmarks are being featured in a brochure created by University of New Mexico Civil Engineering Professor Arup Maji and UNM graduate student Jonathan Lucero as part of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 150th anniversary.

The goal of the project is to bring about awareness of the diversity of work that civil engineers engage in including land surveys, water resources, bridges and roads.

As part of the recognition of ASCE’s anniversary, Governor Gary Johnson has declared Nov. 5 “Civil Engineers Day.”

“Maintaining a road is not as sexy as designing a rocket, but it is what keeps society moving,” says Maji. “I think the general public often takes for granted the contribution of civil engineers to our everyday lives.”

The landmarks highlighted in the brochure include Elephant Butte Dam, Cumbres and Toltec Railroad, Embudo Gauging System, International Monument No. 1 and El Vado Dam.

The Elephant Butte Dam, located near Truth or Consequences, is the largest dam in New Mexico.When the dam was completed in 1916 it created the largest man-made reservoir in the world. The dam was designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers in April of 1977 because of a variety of significant features, one of which is being the first civil engineering project for the international distribution of water.

The Cumbres and Toltec railroad, built in the late 1870s, encompasses all the challenging aspects of civil engineering as a mountainous railroad—structures, geotechnical, transportation, construction and environmental. In the 1870s, extensive layouts of narrow gauge railroads were built throughout the Rocky Mountains. Their original purpose was to transport raw materials, oil, and supplies to and from hard to reach mining towns. The Cumbres and Toltec connected Antonito, Colo. to Chama, N.M., with a twisting winding track that paralleled and crisscrossed deep gorges and ravines. These towns are only 50 miles apart, but the track was nearly 75 miles long.

A Spanish word for funnel, Embudo, well describes the cactus and pinon clad foothills that direct the flow of the Rio Grande. In 1888, Embudo, a small village near the Rio Grande in Northern New Mexico, was chosen to be the site of a new training area for the first hydrographers of the Irrigation Survey. John Wesley Powell, who became the second director of the U.S. Geological Survey in 1881, had conceived the need for a federally conducted irrigation survey in the late 1870s. Powell noted the need to take an inventory of the flow of all streams in the arid region to be able to evaluate their potential. His ideas stimulated funding for the Embudo Gauging Project.

On the west bank of the Rio Grande, between El Paso and Juarez, Mexico, sits a rather modest looking stone monument, merely 12’ high and 5’ square at the base. It marks the spot where New Mexico, Texas and Mexico meet at a common point. For more than a century and a half the monument has stood as a symbol of stability through periods of great territorial disputes. The history of International Monument No. 1 lies in the battles of establishing the border between Mexico and the United States. The ‘Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo’ in 1848 established a joint boundary commission, and required that a monument be established at the easternmost boundary between the United States and Mexico. Sealed within the monument today are the papers signed by the then boundary commissioners from Mexico and the United States.

In its 65 years of operation, the El Vado dam has played an important role in the success of irrigated agriculture of central New Mexico, including the availability of water supply in Albuquerque. The dam is located on the Chama river, about 30 miles south of the town of Chama, in Northern New Mexico. It was the key element of the 1928 plan of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District for flood control, irrigation and drainage. The dam was completed in 1935, and rehabilitated in 1953-54. The outlet was enlarged in 1965-66 to accommodate the additional flows of the San Juan- Chama project. El Vado dam is a rare example of the extensive use of steel in dam construction.

The ASCE New Mexico section received a small grant from the national ASCE to produce the brochures. The information was gathered from a large collection of material, some in bits and pieces. Maji said one of the most significant aspect of the project was selecting a small amount of pertinent information from a box full of articles and pictures from decades ago.

“These landmarks were selected by the national board of ASCE as national Civil Engineering landmarks,” Maji said. “Individual states are allowed to submit potential candidates to be acknowledged as such.”

Maji said work by civil engineers is extremely important to keep the society moving.

“I find it enormously gratifying that something as complex as the big-I gets built ahead of schedule and within budget,” Maji said.