Last update:

Cochiti Dam, New Mexico, USA

Cochiti Dam is a 5.5 mile long Dam forcibly placed onto the indigenous reservation of Cochiti Pueblo that represents the long and complex relationship between national interest and marginalized Native American communities.


Cochiti Dam is situated on Cochiti Pueblo, an Indigenous reservation located alongside the Rio Grande River in Northern New Mexico [5]. Cochiti Dam was designed, constructed, and governed by the Albuquerque District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers beginning in 1965 and ending in 1973 [5]. The discussions around implementing this dam somewhere along the Rio Grande arose in the 1930s due to the excessive flooding occurring in Northern New Mexico, specifically concerning and impacting Santa Fe and Albuquerque, the two most economically productive cities in New Mexico [7]. As the Army Corps of Engineers debated the dam’s placement, Santa Fe and Albuquerque were immediately ruled out, along with the bordering communities near these cities due to the environmental, health, and physical impact the dam would bring to the land and people in close proximity. With these communities ruled out, the Army Corps of Engineers turned to Indigenous community reservations residing between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Prior to the 1960s, throughout many of these discussions, the people of Cochiti consistently stood in strong opposition of the proposed Cochiti Dam on their land. Despite this, with scarce warning, consulting, and contact, the Army Corps of Engineers quickly deemed Cochiti Pueblo as the "best" location for the placement of this Dam. 

See more
Basic Data
Name of conflict:Cochiti Dam, New Mexico, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:New Mexico
Location of conflict:Cochiti Pueblo
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Land
Tourism services
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Cochiti Dam is a 5.5 mile long dam that was constructed with 48,052,000 meters of material. Cochiti Lake sustains a recreational pool of approximately 62,000,000 meters, catching 1,200 meters of sediment per year [11]. In addition, this Dam manages natural water runoff from an 11,695 square miles drainage area, with a maximum outflow capacity of 14,790 feet [11]. Considering these features, The Army Corps of Engineers have been accused by Cochiti Pueblo that the implementation of this Dam has resulted in excessive seepage, flooding, and mudslide rates. Cochiti Pueblo expresses adamant concern on the pollution and harmful chemical rates that this dam has brought in, and the negative impacts it will have on organisms and the people of Cochiti. Furthermore, Cochiti examines the amount of money that deserves to be allocated on repairing the destruction that this Dam has caused the community. On the other hand, the Army Corps of Engineers attempted to find data proving that the seepage, flooding, and chemical rates caused by Cochiti Dam are comparably similar to the median rates of external data collected from other case studies [11]. However, in 1988, the Army Corps of Engineers acknowledged and admitted to portions of Cochiti Pueblo's findings and accusations, opening the door for Cochiti's future success of gaining support through policies and legislation.

See more
Project area:310.02158
Level of Investment for the conflictive project$94,400,000 to build the dam and amounts exceeding $35,000 in annual maintenance costs for the dam
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:528 people of the Indigenous Community of Cochiti Pueblo, additional pueblos and communities located alongside the Rio Grande
Start of the conflict:01/01/1965
Relevant government actors:Army Corps of Engineers, US Federal Government, State Government of New Mexico, Bureau of Land Affairs, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Cities of Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Bernalillo, and other affluent, predominantly non-Native American communities in close proximity
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Natural Resource Department of Cochiti Pueblo, Phoebe Suina and High Water Mark
Sierra Club
Conservation Alliance
Citizens of Cochiti Pueblo and other pueblan citizens in close proximity to the dam, Keres Children's Learning Center
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Native Americans: Cochiti people
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Other Health impacts
Potential: Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..)
Other socio-economic impactsRisk of mudslides; reduction of main food staples due to the destruction of farming culture
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Under negotiation
Fostering a culture of peace
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Proposal and development of alternatives:Due to the erasure of traditional Cochiti culture, language, and overall lifestyle that resulted from the implementation of Cochiti Dam, locals and grassroot activists took initiative in establishing the Keres Children's Learning Center, also known as KCLC in 2012. KCLC is a non-profit, Montessori primary school for indigenous children of Cochiti that centers the teaching of Keres, Cochiti's native language, and their heritage at the forefront of learning. The majority of teachers employed by KCLC are indigenous to Cochiti, ranging from elders to individuals in their twenties. These teachers encompass comprehensive cultural and academic lessons into one curriculum, giving students both the internal, traditional knowledge as well as preparing students with knowledge ranging from English to Math. KCLC works to restore Cochiti's lost culture as well as providing paid employment opportunities to the people of Cochiti [10]. Another alternative to the ongoing issue is the working relationship formed between the Army Corps of Engineers and Cochiti Pueblo
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Despite the progressive legislations passed and the mobilization of Cochiti Pueblo that is still being seen today, environmental justice has still not been served to the people and community of Cochiti Pueblo. Although Cochiti was able to reduce the proposed 40,000 Cochiti Lake Town residents to 600, this non-native town still currently exists and can never be eliminated [7].
Furthermore, seeing that Cochiti Pueblo has a population of 528 people [3], Cochiti Lake Town has a larger population which maintains the fact that the people of Cochiti continue to be the minority of their own homelands. Consistent flooding and seepage issues from the dam continue to this day, resulting in the loss of the majority of Cochiti's farm land and farming culture [5]. Furthermore, the physical structure of the dam remains a constant, 5.5 mile long physical reminder of how the United States treats indigenous communities; Gene Ka-hee explains how this dam "... stretches an irreversible shadow across our land.” In addition to all these injustices that still have not been solved, the future of Cochiti Pueblo remains unknown and burdened onto the people of Cochiti. The Army Corps of Engineers constructed the Cochiti Dam with a constrained lifespan of no more than 100 years, leaving no plan for the removal or replacement of this dam in place for when the time comes. In approximately 50 years, the fate of not only Cochiti Dam but of Cochiti Pueblo will be at stake. Due to the Army Corps of Engineers’ neglect in creating a plan for the future of Cochiti Dam, this became Cochiti Pueblo's responsibility. In conclusion, environmental justice has still not been served to Cochiti Pueblo due to the fact that the people of Cochiti continue to be burdened by the injustices and held responsible for the implementation of possible solutions that resulted from external and unwanted forces [5].
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[11] Cochiti Baseline Study, A Data Compendium by the US Army Corporation of Engineers; A Comprehensive, Systematic data on the natural, water and other resources at and around Cochiti

Lake so that a more complete assessment could be made of the impacts of changes in lake operations on

the area's natural, water, and other resources.
[click to view]

[12] A Bill to Improve the Implementation of the Settlement Agreement Reached Between the Pueblo De Cochiti of New Mexico and the Corps of Engineers, and for Other Purposes; The purpose of S. 2643 is to amend Public Law No. 102-358, which authorized a Settlement Agreement between the Pueblo de Cochiti, the United States Department of the Interior, and the United States Army Corps of Engineers. The bill would authorize the transfer of responsibility for the Cochiti Dam drainage system to the Pueblo de Cochiti and release the United States from liability associated with that drainage system.
[click to view]

[13] Supplemental Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act Report; Rio Grande and Tributaries Flood Control reported by the San Acacia to Bosque Del Apache Unit in Socorro County, New Mexico
[click to view]

[14] Morphology of the Middle Rio Grande from Cochiti Dam to Bernalillo Bridge, New Mexico; This is a comprehensive piece studying the continuous geomorphologic changes in the Middle Rio Grande in New Mexico and how this has been of interest for many governmental agencies involved with the management and operation of this river system. Due to sedimentation problems along this river, highly developed plans for sediment detention and flood control have been carried out
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[5] Ka-hee, Gene (2019). Traditional Leader, EPA General Assistant Program Manager within the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico.

[6] McDonald, Fiona (2018). Performing Water Rights on Cochiti Dam. Arlington, Virginia. American Anthropological Association.

[7] Pecos, Regis (2007). The History of Cochiti Lake from the Pueblo Perspective. University of New Mexico of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Natural Resources Journal.

[1] Cochiti Dam changed Pueblo Way of Life
[click to view]

[2] A Dam's 'Painful' History
[click to view]

[3] United States Census Bureau
[click to view]

[4] How Much Would You Pay For The Very Best Lawyer?
[click to view]

[15] Stopping the Flood of Damages from Cochiti Dam
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[8] Cochiti Dam: Taming the Rio Grande
[click to view]

[9] Cochiti Canyon Flood: Dixon Apple Orchard
[click to view]

[10] Keres Children's Learning Center
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Sophia Livecchi, Skidmore College, [email protected]; A.J. Schneller, Skidmore College, [email protected], Jessica Plotnick, Skidmore College, [email protected]
Last update19/07/2021
Conflict ID:5373
Legal notice / Aviso legal
We use cookies for statistical purposes and to improve our services. By clicking "Accept cookies" you consent to place cookies when visiting the website. For more information, and to find out how to change the configuration of cookies, please read our cookie policy. Utilizamos cookies para realizar el análisis de la navegación de los usuarios y mejorar nuestros servicios. Al pulsar "Accept cookies" consiente dichas cookies. Puede obtener más información, o bien conocer cómo cambiar la configuración, pulsando en más información.