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Fort Sumner Project

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Fort Sumner Project History (55 KB) (pdf)
General Description| Plan| Development| Benefits


General Description

The Fort Sumner Project area was developed by private interests in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and then reconstructed and rehabilitated by the Bureau of Reclamation in the early 1950`s. Fort Sumner provides irrigation water for about 6,500 acres within the Fort Sumner Irrigation District, northeast of the Pecos River immediately south of the town of Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

Principal structures are the Fort Sumner Diversion Dam and Ft. Sumner Pumping Plant, the Main and High Line Canals, and several large drains.

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The rehabilitation plan was designed to provide security for the project area and to utilize its land and water resources to the greatest practical extent. The irrigated area was increased to 6,500 acres by improving drainage and by more efficiently distributing the district`s adjudicated water.

The Fort Sumner Irrigation District holds a senior water right for not more than 100 cubic feet per second from the natural flow of the Pecos River. The district`s water passes through Sumner Dam and Lake Sumner, formerly Alamogordo Dam and Reservoir, constructed on the Pecos River in 1937 to store water for the Carlsbad Irrigation District. Water is released from the reservoir to the district in amounts equal to the reservoir inflow, but not exceeding 100 cubic feet per second.

Water diverted from Pecos River by the Fort Sumner Diversion Dam, approximately 3 miles north of Fort Sumner, is carried to the land through a main canal and distribution system which was rehabilitated and enlarged by Reclamation.

Facility Descriptions

Fort Sumner Diversion Dam

The dam is a concrete gravity-type with an overflow weir, designed to raise the water surface 11 feet. The overflow section is 650 feet long. The dam is 150 feet downstream from the remnants of a damaged diversion dam that it replaces. The dam also has 2 sluice radial gates and canal headworks structures.

Canal System and Pumping Plant

The Main Canal is over 16 miles long and has an initial capacity of 100 cubic feet per second. The High Line Canal is over 8 miles long and has a capacity of 20 cubic feet per second. The pumping plant was constructed at the northwest limit of Fort Sumner to lift 20 cubic feet per second of water from the Main Canal and deliver it to the rehabilitated High Line Canal. In addition, the Fort Sumner Irrigation District has installed a small pumping plant near the southern end of the project which lifts drainage return flows back into the lateral system.

Operating Agencies

The project is maintained and operated by the Fort Sumner Irrigation District.

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Irrigation was begun in 1863 in the valley of the Pecos River near old Fort Sumner, established in 1862. The first irrigators were the Apache and Navajo Indians, held in captivity by United States troops under the command of Kit Carson. In spite of efforts to farm the land, hardships suffered by the Indians were so great that the irrigation experiment on almost 3,000 acres was abandoned in 1868.

The Fort Sumner Land and Canal Co. was formed in 1906 and development of an irrigation system was initiated. The system was sold to the Fort Sumner Irrigation District in 1919. The district had recurring financial and operating difficulties. By 1943, indebtedness was so great and the project works so unstable that further rehabilitation work appeared to be virtually impossible by private financing and construction, and the water users appealed to the Bureau of Reclamation for assistance.


Investigations by Reclamation resulted in the plan for rehabilitating Fort Sumner Irrigation Project that was approved by the Secretary of the Interior on March 13, 1947.


The President approved a congressional act on July 29, 1949 (Public Law 192, 81st Congress, 1st session, 63 Stat. 483), authorizing the project.


Reconstruction was started in January 1950 and was essentially complete in the spring of 1951.

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About 6,100 acres are now in irrigation rotation on 242 individual farms. Principal crops produced are alfalfa, corn, grain sorghum, vegetables, apples, and grapes.

Last updated: Apr 21, 2011