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UNM graduate student works with local engineers to save a bridge

March 10, 2014 - By Karen Wentworth

UNM Civil Engineering graduate student Adrienne Martinez is working to solve a potentially big problem in Albuquerque’s North Diversion Channel. Martinez is an engineering intern at the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority where engineers spend a lot of time worrying about how storm water runoff can travel safely through Albuquerque on its journey to the Rio Grande.

Storm water from Albuquerque’s northeast heights travels to the Rio Grande through a series of arroyos to the North Diversion Channel. The very large concrete channel that flows north along I-25 then turns west and enters the river near the Bernalillo county line. Storm water engineers are particularly concerned about the Rainrunner Bridge over the channel and its vulnerability to damage from summer thunderstorms.

The bathtub is a concrete structure that dissipates energy from the fast moving water and channels it into the Rio Grande. AMAFCA has already adopted some of the ideas demonstrated in the model. They have removed the tiger teeth from the channel and are now considering whether to reconfigure the channel bottom downstream from the bridge and remove the bathtub.

UNM has worked with AMAFCA for more than 20 years. Each year graduate students are hired to solve problems associated with storm water flow in the channels. Over the years students have tested structures to catch the enormous amounts of trash and debris that are swept down the various arroyos and flood channels. Many of the structures designed and tested in the hydrology lab have been built and are performing their function in the diversion channels today.

For Martinez, this is just the beginning. She was able to participate in reducing the threat to the bridge, but her big interest is the trash and debris that flow down the diversion channel. She is now completing her master’s thesis on metals and their effect on plants in the channel. She says she is interested in working professionally on that problem in the future.