Carlsbad Flume
"The River that Crosses Itself"

Carlsbad, NM

February 22, 2001

Have you ever heard of a river that crosses over itself? Well, according to Ripley's "Believe it or not!" such a river existed in Carlsbad, New Mexico. At one time, due to the help of an extremely large flume, the Pecos River crossed over itself. Now you may ask yourself "what is a flume?" According to the dictionary, it is a narrow gorge with a stream flowing through it, usually, or an artificial channel or chute for a stream of water. The latter describes the Flume on the Pecos River at Carlsbad, New Mexico. Irrigation was a necessity for the arid Southwest as it couldn't depend on rainfall and snow for moisture to grow crops. For centuries Native Americans and Hispanic peoples regularly watered small fields with canal networks, acequias and brush diversion dams. In 1889, however, Ralph S. Tarr, an observer for the U. S. Geological Survey department, felt the Pecos Valley had potential for large scale agriculture. He estimated the regions between Roswell and the Texas line contained some 300,000 acres of fertile, irrigable land. Thus was begun the Pecos River Reclamation Project, of which the famous Pat Garrettt (who had a ranch near Roswell) and Charles B. Eddy, founder of Carlsbad, were a part. The plan was to build a large conversion dam and a canal network.  The Pecos River Flume was probably the most complex part of the canal network, according to Mark Hufstetler and Lon Johnson who wrote The Turbulent History of the Carlsbad Irrigation District. The canal was split into East Side and Main Canals. At this bifurcation, Main (or Western) Canal crossed the Pecos River by means of a wooden flume, 475 feet long by 25 feet wide, carrying eight feet of water. The Flume was completed in 1890 but was destroyed by a flood in 1902. Rebuilt in concrete, at that time it was the largest concrete structure in the world. It is in use today as part of the Carlsbad Irrigation District. Once featured in Ripley's "Believe It or Not" as the river that crosses itself, it carries Pecos River water from Lake Avalon, just north of Carlsbad, for irrigation. Today the flume stills stands as a monument to early Western settlers' ingenuity and problem solving abilities.

Good Luck! Have Fun! and Stay Safe!