Elephant Butte Dam History

Beginning in the 1880s, farmers in west Texas complained that the Rio Grande was down to a “trickle of water” during the summer. The blame was placed on the farmers upstream in New Mexico. The solution was to build a dam…but where to locate it and how to fund it would take the next 30 years.

Sites close to El Paso were considered first, but flooding the Mesilla Valley’s rich agricultural land seemed a bad idea. The northernmost site considered was Elephant Butte. A feasibility study done in 1902 settled the question, and Elephant Butte was chosen as the site.

Funding had been another question. British investors got involved in the 1890s but, due to delays, lost interest. The ultimate construction was U.S. funded with the idea that irrigators would over time pay off the costs. This never happened. Construction was finally started in 1911 and completed five years later. It was claimed to be the second largest irrigation dam in the world. What has happened since?

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