County may request state aid after rock slide damages ditch

The San Juan County Commission will discuss the rock slide during its meeting at 4 p.m. Tuesday

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
Farmers Mutual Ditch, pictured, Friday in Kirtland, was damaged by a rock slide. The county is seeking state disaster aid.
  • San Juan County, Farmington will also have closed executive sessions about the possible closure of San Juan Generating Station.
  • U.S. EPA will provide updates about the Bonita Peak mining district during a meeting Tuesday in Fruitland.


FARMINGTON — The San Juan County Commission may ratify a resolution Tuesday declaring a rock slide that damaged Farmers Mutual Ditch a disaster and asking for state aid.

The County Commission will meet at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the county administration building, 100 S. Oliver Drive, in Aztec.

The rock slide occurred Monday in the early morning. The ditch provides irrigation water to about 600 people as well as Lower Valley Water Users. Lower Valley provides drinking water to Kirtland and surrounding areas. Lower Valley also has other sources of drinking water, including purchasing from Farmington.

A portion of the Farmers Mutual Ditch running through Kirtland is seen here on Friday.

The ditch is a quasi-governmental entity and is not under the county's jurisdiction. County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said when rock slides occur the county partners with the ditch to issue a declaration of disaster. The state then reviews the declaration and makes a decision about issuing emergency funding. Carpenter said the county has already declared it a disaster and the commission will ratify the declaration on Tuesday.

The ditch's governing body posted on Facebook that a portion of cliff about 100 to 130 feet long and 50 feet high collapsed into the ditch at approximately 5 a.m. Monday. 

Danene Sherwood, the president of the ditch, said about 20 feet of ditch bank was washed out east of the rock slide. Sherwood said there are two other portions of the cliff that could collapse in the future. She said there is no estimate of how much money the repairs will cost.

Accessibility is one of the issues that the ditch's governing body will face while trying to fix it. 

A rock slide Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, blocked Farmers Mutual Ditch near Kirtland.

"The only way to access the ditch is in the ditch," Sherwood said.

While Sherwood said the farmers were fortunate the rock slide didn't come six weeks earlier during the peak of the agricultural season, she said she has freshly planted hay that needs water before the winter.

This is not the first time a rock slide has blocked the irrigation ditch. In April 2007, a 1,000-foot-long rock slide near Harper Hill plugged Farmers Mutual Ditch. The ditch was built in 1887 and stretches from the confluence of the Animas and San Juan rivers to near the Hogback formation. The 2007 slide occurred on April 11 and the ditch was not reopened until May 4, according to The Daily Times archives.  

Sherwood said the ditch frequently experiences rock slides. She said last year was the first year in a long time when there wasn't a slide. Sherwood said the slides range from minor to catastrophic.

"This one's kind of a catastrophe," she said.

In addition to possibly declaring the rock slide a disaster, the San Juan County Commission will go into closed executive session to discuss Public Service Company of New Mexico possibly closing the San Juan Generating Station.

The county will seek state aid to fix Farmers Mutual Ditch, which was damaged by a rock slide on Monday. This portion is near the Kirtland Fruitland Cemetery.

The Farmington City Council will also meet Tuesday at 800 N. Municipal Drive. At the end of its 9 a.m. meeting, the council will have a closed executive session to discuss PNM's integrated resource plan that calls for closing the San Juan Generating Station. Other topics on Farmington's agenda include the 2P waterline that is being installed in south Farmington, resurfacing East Main Street and phase two of the Foothills Drive Enhancement Project. The project on Foothills Drive involves adding bike lanes and a detached multi-use trail. It will also include raised medians and drainage upgrades. 

A rock slide Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, blocked Farmers Mutual Ditch near Kirtland.

The Aztec City Commission will have a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday at 201 W. Chaco St. to discuss contracting with a firm to hire an interim city manager. The meeting will be a closed executive session. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will have a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Walter Collins Center in Fruitland to provide updates on the Bonita Peak Mining District, which includes the Gold King Mine.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.