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FARMINGTON — It is not unusual for boulders or portions of the cliff side to tumble off the Harper Hill bluff into Farmers Mutual Ditch.

This can block water to about 700 people who rely on it to irrigate fields. In addition to the people who rely on the ditch for irrigation water, Lower Valley Water and Sanitation District uses the ditch to provide drinking water at a lower cost than pumping it out of the river.

The ditch association is trying to raise funds and support for piping the ditch along the base of Harper Hill. Farmers Mutual Ditch Association President Danene Sherwood gave U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-NM, a tour of the ditch Friday morning.

“I’m never going to complain about cleaning my ditch again,” Luján said as he toured the Farmers Mutual Ditch.

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On one side of the narrow dirt path, the ditch company had piled debris removed from the ditch. These piles towered over Luján and Sherwood's heads. On the other side of the ditch, the cliffs showed signs of eroding and scattering more debris into the ditch.

Sherwood told Luján they were standing beside the less severe portion of the ditch.

The worst portion of the ditch has a bank only a few feet wide separating it from the San Juan River. There is no way to get an excavator to that portion to clear out the ditch. At one point, a metal flume holds the water.

Farmers Mutual Ditch company is trying to raise $7.2 million to pipe the ditch along the base of Harper Hill. This year’s state capital outlay bill would give them more than $3 million toward that goal. Combined with other funding, Sherwood said the ditch company will have about $6.3 million for the project.

However, Sherwood said even $7.2 million may not be enough, especially if another landslide blocks the ditch.

“Every night we go to bed thinking is it going to be tonight, is it going to be tonight,” Sherwood told the congressman.

She said large portions of the ditch bank can wash out if a landslide blocks the ditch during the night.

Just designing the project to pipe the ditch will likely require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but Luján said piping will be the most cost effective way to protect the water supply.

“If there’s not additional support here, this ditch disappears,” he said.

He said that would hurt families, the economy and the water system that provides drinking water to Kirtland and surrounding areas.

“It really feels like it’s hanging on by a thread,” commented Melissa May, the district manager for San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District.

Luján can’t count the number of ditches and acequias he has toured since he was elected.

“It’s something that’s important to me,” he said. “It’s the way I was raised.”

Farmers Mutual Ditch flows at 110 cubic feet per second and stretches more than 20 miles. It can draw water from either the Animas River or the San Juan River.

Each year the ditch association clears debris from the ditch. In October 2017, a landslide completely blocked the ditch.

 “I’ve not visited a ditch that had a threat from landslide and rock slide like this one,” he said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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