AZTEC — Each year, Aztec city crews rebuild a rock dike in the Animas River to help divert water to the city's main pump station during winter months when the water is low.
And each spring when snowmelt from Colorado causes water levels to rise and flow rates increase, it washes away.
The annual work pushing rubble and river rocks into a temporary dike was last done in January, but according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the city will have to install a permanent solution to minimize any impacts to the riparian environment.
The city has until Oct. 31 to build a permanent dike.
"The (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) told us, 'Wait, no more — a permanent solution must happen,'" said the city's Public Works Director William Watson. "So we're going to move where the current diversion channel is to the east so the river flows more directly into the channel and into our pump station."
The city's attempt to receive a new permit for the temporary dike that's currently in place failed after the San Juan County Floodplain manager and the New Mexico Environment Department's Surface Water Quality Bureau raised concerns.
Without a permit for a temporary solution or approval yet for a permanent structure, the city would face the risk of not being able to supply its water treatment plant with raw water and its citizens with the drinkable water the plant produces.
The pump intake station — located on the east side of the Animas River just upstream from the Aztec Ruins National Monument — is the city's primary source of water between May to October and the sole source between November and April. The city uses the Aztec Ditch as a secondary source if water intake is critically low.
Getting a design plan for a permanent fix was delayed when an engineering firm the city hired failed to complete the design plans, Watson said.
On Friday, Watson was in negotiations with a representative from Smith Engineering, an Albuquerque firm, to begin work on the necessary environmental assessments, hydrologic and hydraulic analyses and design for a diversion structure that meets state and federal regulations.
On Tuesday, Aztec City Commissioners approved paying Smith Engineering $135,714 for the job.
Watson, who became director in November, said he did not know why the city had not already built a permanent dike for the water intake system. But, he said, it may have been a funding issue.
But with pressure from the county and state agencies, the Army Corps and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the city is left with little choice.
"I'm anticipating construction to begin sometime before July or August," Watson said. "That will help us meet our deadline with the Corps. Everybody's watching us get it done."
James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4631 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.