San Juan County ditches being prepared for irrigation season
Pipe installed for Independent Ditch in Cherry Hills area
FARMINGTON — Many San Juan County farmers and ranchers will begin receiving irrigation water through the ditch systems at the beginning of April, but officials say spring storms will be needed to prevent water shortages.
Jim Rogers, a member of the Jewett Valley Ditch Commission, said ditches that draw from the San Juan River traditionally begin the irrigation season on April 1.
The Jewett Valley Ditch is located just outside the Navajo Nation in the Hogback area. While it has some of the oldest water rights in the county, Rogers said its location at the end of the line can create difficulties getting water during dry periods of time.
“It’s the lowest at our diversion point that I personally have ever seen it,” Rogers said.
He said he has been monitoring the water level for about four decades. The Jewett Valley Ditch draws water from the San Juan River in Fruitland.
Rogers said he previously has seen the river at this low level during the fall, but the lower water level at this time of year is concerning. Rogers said the farmers and ranchers who depend on the Jewett Valley Ditch will probably have to rotate use of the water this year.
Bloomfield Irrigation District office coordinator Stacey Dodd said the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has reported there is enough water in Navajo Lake to sustain water users through the summer, but district officials are taking a cautious approach. The district supplies irrigation and drinking water to Bloomfield and surrounding areas.
Because it is the main source of Bloomfield drinking water, the ditch rarely is turned off for maintenance. Dodd said the district has cleaned the banks and installed a box culvert and a new spill gate.
Other ditches, like Jewett Valley and the Independent Ditch in Farmington, have their water turned off during the winter, which allows officials to do maintenance work.
Jewett Valley Ditch personnel are in the process of cleaning out the ditch in preparation for the irrigation season. That process requires sending water through it. Rogers said during the cleaning process, the company has only been able to draw the ditch up to half its normal capacity this year, which is making it hard to clean the ditch.
“It really makes you think twice about planting new fields,” Rogers said.
He said he grows alfalfa, which is the main crop in the Hogback area.
Rogers said he does not know if there will be enough snow melt to make up for the low water levels.
“If you’ve been a farmer, you don’t ever expect everything to go right,” Rogers said.
Steven Pruitt, the chairman of the Independent Ditch in Farmington, is a bit more hopeful. He said sometimes the river levels have been low, and the monsoon rains have brought enough moisture to offset the dry winter.
“That’s what I’m hoping for,” Pruitt said.
Like officials of the Jewett Valley Ditch, officials at the Independent Ditch also are shooting for having irrigation water available the first week of April. However, the Independent Ditch depends on the Halford Ditch to get water to it.
The Independent Ditch flows through the center of Farmington from the San Juan Country Club area to the Glade arroyo area.
Last month, Independent Ditch officials installed 1,000 feet of pipeline to make it more safe. The 1,000 feet of pipe was placed in the Cherry Hills area, where there was not a lot of space between the ditch and the surrounding houses. The pipeline transports the ditch water underground.
He said there are fences on either side of the ditch, but he had concerns that children could get inside the fences and fall into the ditch. Pruitt said the proximity to houses also created concerns about flooding.
“I’ve always felt like that was an area that we could have a problem,” Pruitt said.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.