The Arch Hurley Irrigation District

General Description:

The Tucumcari Project, in east-central New Mexico surrounding the city of Tucumcari, has about 41,000 acres of irrigable land. Project features include the Conchas Dam and Reservoir (constructed by the Corps of Engineers), the Conchas and Hudson Canals, and a distribution and drainage system. Many crops grown in the project are used to sustain the area’s livestock industry. Alfalfa hay, alfalfa seed, grain sorghum, cotton, and wheat are the leading crops produced.

Brief Overview of the History of Quay County:

For thousands of years Quay County was the home of Native American large game hunters. Later on parties of Pueblo Indian buffalo hunters from central New Mexico utilized the area on a seasonal basis as well as other American Indian groups including the Kiowa and, at a later date, Athabascans migrating in from the north. The first recorded European presence was the Coronado Expedition which, while exploring the region for the king of Spain, passed through Quay County in 1542. In the years after the Comanche, after obtaining guns from the French in Louisiana, became the dominant military force over the whole Southern Plains and there occurred a thriving trade between the Pueblo Indians, the Rio Grande Spanish settlers and the Kiowas and Comanches. The first wagon train passed through the area in 1832 and even though some lands in the project area have been in cultivation for 145 years, for many years the residents of Quay County primarily were livestock producers. Spanish landowners from the Rio Grande area brought out large flocks of sheep to graze, and after the Civil War Texas cattlemen began to use the area as well. The Rock Island Railroad began construction of the New Mexico portion of its line in 1901 and finished up in that year. This brought in new population in the form of train crews, support personnel, businessmen and homesteaders and produced a very large payroll in Quay County. Quay County was formed in 1903, two years after the founding of Tucumcari. To the early settlers and homesteaders, the possibility of farming these semiarid lands depended on whether rainfall would be sufficient to produce crops and in many years it wasn’t especially during the long drought of the 1930’s.

The Development of the Irrigation District:

The first complete study of land and water resources was made by the Interstate Land Development Company. In 1925, the Canadian River Development Association was formed to foster a flood control and irrigation project by constructing storage facilities in the Canadian River Basin. On December 31, 1926, a compact was entered into by New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas setting forth an equitable distribution of these waters. New Mexico then completed a comprehensive survey and cost report for a project including diversion from the Canadian River combined with a storage reservoir on Pajarito Creek. In 1934, the Secretary of the Interior created the Arkansas Basin Committee to make a complete investigation of the watersheds of the Arkansas River. Working in cooperation with the Corps of Engineers, the committee reported favorably on numerous projects throughout the basin. Among these were Conchas Dam on the Canadian River and its concomitant irrigation district. Conchas Dam, initiated under the Emergency Relief Act of 1935, was authorized by the Congress in the Flood Control Act of June 22, 1936, and was completed in 1940 by the Corps of Engineers. Incorporated in the Conchas Dam construction was a headworks structure for an irrigation canal. The Bureau of Reclamation and the Corps of Engineers, each under the authority of its separate department, set up a cooperative plan to regulate the reservoir storage capacity to best serve the requirements of irrigation and flood control. In 1936, the Bureau of Reclamation was authorized to conduct investigations to ascertain the practicability and cost of a canal and distribution system to serve an area in the vicinity of Tucumcari, using the diversion headworks incorporated in the Conchas Dam structure. The final report, covering water supply, economic studies, and cost estimates, was completed in August 1937.


The President approved the finding of feasibility on November 1, 1938. The Congress, by an act approved April 9, 1938 (Public Law 477, 75th Cong.), authorized the Bureau of Reclamation to build the project subject to this approval. The basic repayment contract with the Arch Hurley Conservancy District was executed on December 27, 1938. Subsequent amendatory contracts provided for the emergency installation of pumps at Conchas Dam during the summer of 1953 and a rehabilitation and betterment program through drainage and canal lining beginning in 1961 and continuing to completion during 1976.


Construction of the irrigation system began in 1940 and continued to December 1942, when work was suspended by the War Production Board. The project was authorized in April 1944 as a war emergency food project. First water was delivered to project lands in 1946 and construction was essentially completed in 1950. Operation of the project disclosed a need for the drainage improvement work which was accomplished by construction contracts during 1952-1954. The Arch Hurley Conservancy District desired further improvement to the project distribution and drainage system, and in May 1961 the district initiated a rehabilitation and betterment program which included the installation of about 86 miles of canal and lateral linings and the addition of about 23 miles of open drains. The program was completed during 1976.

Unit descriptions and facilities:

Water stored in the Conchas Reservoir, 31 miles northwest of Tucumcari, is conveyed to the land by means of the Conchas Canal and its branch, the Hudson Canal. The canals deliver the water to the 172-mile distribution system which serves the project lands.

Conchas Dam:

Conchas Dam, constructed by the Corps of Engineers on the Canadian River, is a concrete gravity section flanked by embankment wings. The dam has a structural height of 235 feet, a crest length of 6,230 feet, and a volume of 836,000 cubic yards of concrete and 887,000 cubic yards of earth. The main spillway is an overflow section 300 feet long in the main section of the dam. An emergency spillway, located on the north dike, is 3,000 feet long and is 17 feet higher than the main spillway. The irrigation outlet works is a circular pressure tunnel leading to the gate chamber, then into two steel penstocks in a horseshoe tunnel. The reservoir has a capacity of 315,735 acre-feet, of which 37,136 acre-feet are conservation storage.

The Conchas Canal:

The 84-mile Conchas Canal has an initial capacity of 700 cubic feet per second. The canal includes 31 siphons aggregating 21,921 feet in length, and 5 tunnels with a cumulative length of 30,140 feet.

The Hudson Canal:

Commencing at mile 56.5 on the Conchas Canal, the Hudson Canal extends 26 miles through the project lands. The initial capacity is 384 cubic feet per second. The canal has one siphon 3,200 feet long.

Operating agencies:

Conchas Dam, including the canal headworks structure, is operated and maintained by the Corps of Engineers. Operation and maintenance responsibility of the rest of Tucumcari Project was turned over to the Arch Hurley Conservancy District on January 1, 1954.

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