What’s the Largest Man-Made Lake in New Mexico?

Written by Niccoy Walker
Updated: May 30, 2023
© Judd Irish Bradley/Shutterstock.com
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New Mexico is known for its laid-back lifestyle and breathtaking rural scenery. The state boasts impressive diversity, from canyons to forested mountains, prairies, and deserts. And oases like streams, rivers, and lakes speckle the landscape, giving reprieve from the scorching summer sun. Burford Lake is the largest natural lake in the state, covering around 2,000 surface acres. But what’s the largest man-made lake in New Mexico? Discover the answer, including other impressive lakes, below.

Largest Man-Made Lake in New Mexico: Elephant Butte

Elephant Butte Lake
Elephant Butte Reservoir is New Mexico’s largest man-made lake, covering 36,500 acres. It is the 84th largest artificial lake in the U.S.


The largest man-made lake in New Mexico is the Elephant Butte Reservoir, covering 36,500 acres (surface area). It’s the largest in the state by total surface area and peak volume and the 84th biggest artificial lake in the United States. Elephant Butte is a dam and reservoir located on the southern Rio Grande. It is encompassed by Elephant Butte Lake State Park, the largest state park in the state.

The dam was finished in 1916, and the reservoir is governed by the Rio Grande Project, providing hydroelectric power and irrigation to west Texas and south-central New Mexico. The power system was owned by the Rio Grande Project until 1977 but now belongs to a private electric company.

Elephant Butte Reservoir Water Level

As of August 2022, the Elephant Butte Reservoir was at 3% capacity, sitting well below monthly averages. This is in keeping with water level trends in the Southwest when compared to other bodies of water, like Lake Mead and Lake Powell. If the drought continues in the area for the next several years, it could put immense stress on the agricultural industry. But meteorologists believe it won’t be too different from what farmers have seen for the last two decades.

Where Is Elephant Butte Reservoir Located on a Map?

Elephant Butte Reservoir is in Sierra County. It is five miles north of New Mexico city Truth or Consequences and 125 miles north of El Paso, Texas.

What Is There to Do at Elephant Butte Reservoir?

Duck Hunting in a Boat
The Elephant Butte Reservoir is a popular destination for outdoor recreation such as fishing, boating, and hunting.

©Moroz Elena/Shutterstock.com

Despite its decreasing water levels, Elephant Butte Reservoir is a popular destination for abundant outdoor recreation.

Participate in these activities the next time you are in the area:

  • Fishing
  • Camping
  • Kayaking
  • Jet Skiing
  • Sailing
  • Boarding
  • Canoeing
  • Hunting
  • Picnicking
  • Scuba diving
  • Swimming
  • Hiking
  • Volleyball
  • Birding
  • Or just relaxing on the shore and taking in the scenery.

Wildlife at Elephant Butte Reservoir

You can spot these common animals around the lake:

  • Rabbits
  • Roadrunners
  • White pelicans
  • Grebes
  • Gulls
  • Terns
  • Egrets
  • Herons
  • Lizards
  • Turtles
  • Snakes.

What’s the Biggest Lake in New Mexico?

Navajo Lake is the deepest lake in New Mexico, with a maximum depth of 395 feet.

©Timthefinn at English Wikipedia / This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Timthefinn at English Wikipedia. This applies worldwide.

The Elephant Butte Reservoir is not only the largest man-made lake in New Mexico but also the largest overall. The deepest lake in New Mexico is Navajo Lake. It is a reservoir on the San Juan River and has a maximum depth of 395 feet. 

How Many Man-Made Lakes Are in New Mexico?

There are more than 1,200 lakes throughout New Mexico and only 15 of them are man-made. Artificial lakes are crucial to the environment and economy. Check out the other man-made lakes in New Mexico.

Other Large Man-Made Lakes

Navajo Lake, New Mexico
Navajo Lake covers 15,600 acres. Its creation is controversial as it displaces hundreds of families and destroyed a sacred Navajo site.

©Navajo Lake, New Mexico/Shutterstock.com

Navajo Lake is a reservoir in northwestern New Mexico and covers 15,600 acres. The creation of this reservoir is rather controversial, as it displaced hundreds of families and destroyed one of the most sacred sites of the Navajo. The lake and its shores are part of the Navajo Lake State Park.

El Vado Lake is a reservoir in northern New Mexico. It is 3,200 acres, five miles long, and one mile wide. Visitors to the El Vado Lake State Park can experience hiking, boating, camping, and picnicking. The area is also known for its excellent salmon and trout fishing.

The Abiquiu Lake was created by the Abiquiu Dam in northern New Mexico along the Rio Chama. The lake is 5,200 acres and over 12 miles long. Its water and shoreline offer camping, picnicking, swimming, boating, fishing, and hiking. Like the Elephant Butte, water levels are dangerously low. In 2021, the water was so low it did not reach the dam.

Brantley Lake is a reservoir that sits on the Pecos River near Carlsbad, New Mexico. Its surface area is over 4,000 acres, and its main purpose is flood control, irrigation, recreation, and fish management. It’s located in the southeastern region of the state in the Chihuahuan Desert.

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The Featured Image

Elephant Butte Lake, New Mexico
Elephant Butte Lake, New Mexico.
© Judd Irish Bradley/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer and content creator focusing on nature, wildlife, food, and travel. She graduated Kappa Beta Delta from Florida State College with a business degree before realizing writing was her true passion. She lives in the Triangle area and enjoys hiking, reading, and cooking!

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  1. JSTOR, Available here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/4082193
  2. New Mexico EMNRD, Available here: https://www.emnrd.nm.gov/spd/find-a-park/elephant-butte-lake-state-park/
  3. Bureau of Reclamation, Available here: https://www.usbr.gov/projects/index.php?id=94
  4. Water Data for Texas, Available here: https://waterdatafortexas.org/reservoirs/individual/elephant-butte#:~:text=Elephant%20Butte%20Lake%20
  5. Gizmodo, Available here: https://gizmodo.com/new-mexico-elephant-butte-reservoir-dry-2022-1849433259
  6. KVIA, Available here: https://kvia.com/news/2022/05/05/elephant-butte-reservoir-is-at-13-3-capacity-what-that-means-for-the-future/