Ditch breach cuts off Bloomfield's water supply

Officials ask residents to conserve water, restrict using city water for outdoor purposes, such as watering lawns or washing cars

Brett Berntsen
Harold Chamberlin, a ditch rider with the Bloomfield Irrigation District Ditch, stands next to a collapsed portion of the ditch off County Road 4655 in Blanco on Monday.
  • An 80-foot stretch of bank along the Bloomfield Irrigation District Ditch collapsed this morning.
  • Access to the ditch, which fills Bloomfield's reservoir with San Juan River water, has been shut off.
  • Repairs should take at least two weeks. The city has enough water in its reservoir for 15 days.
  • The irrigation district will seek emergency state funds for the repairs, which could exceed $100,000.

FARMINGTON — The irrigation ditch that supplies most of Bloomfield's water has been breached, and city officials are urging residents to take conservation measures.

The breach occurred early this morning,  when an 80-foot stretch of bank along the Bloomfield Irrigation District Ditch collapsed.

"It’s hard to tell what happened. It's just gone," said Andrew Dean, chairman of the irrigation district's board, referring to the ditch's bank.

Access to the ditch — which fills Bloomfield's reservoir with water from the San Juan River — has been shut off.

Strahl said the city has enough water in its reservoir to last up to 15 days, but repair work on the ditch may take longer than that.

Dean said between 10,000 and 20,000 tons of dirt and rock washed away, and rebuilding the bank will take a minimum of two weeks.

Erosion or obstruction from debris could have caused the damage, but Dean said it's difficult to pinpoint an exact culprit. He said the irrigation district will seek emergency funding from the state for the repair work, which could cost more than $100,000.

San Juan County has also issued a declaration of emergency on behalf of the district, according to Michele Truby-Tillen with the county's Emergency Management Office. She said the declaration will help the district secure state funds.

An 80-foot stretch of bank along the Bloomfield Irrigation District Ditch collapsed on Monday, forcing the city of Bloomfield to shut off access to the ditch. A portion of the eroded ditch is pictured Monday off County Road 4655 in Blanco.

With the supply line to Bloomfield's reservoir cut off, Strahl said the city has discontinued watering parks and sports fields and is urging residents to also conserve water.

The city has posted an advisory restricting the use of city water for outdoor purposes, such as watering lawns or washing cars. Businesses are encouraged to stay open, but conserve as much as possible, according to a press release from the city.

Strahl said Bloomfield has an agreement with Aztec to share water, if necessary. He said the pipe connecting the two cities, however, is too small to provide 100 percent of Bloomfield's water.

Strahl said the city of Bloomfield will provide labor and equipment to the irrigation district to help with repairs.

From left, Chris Ivey, Harold Chamberlin and Mike Meidinger look down at the spot where a large portion of bank along the Bloomfield Irrigation District Ditch collapsed on Monday. The eroded bank is located off County Road 4655 in Blanco.

The 42-mile ditch, which runs from Navajo Dam to Bloomfield, is the one of the largest and most vital water transportation systems in the county. More than 5,000 customers rely on water from the ditch, including the city of Bloomfield and multiple oil and gas plants. The system, build in 1912, is also one of the oldest in the county.

"There are parts of it that were dug with mules," Dean said.

Dean said ditch operators try to be proactive in improving the 104-year-old canal, but the all-volunteer organization has run into funding problems.

"It’s a challenge," he said. "There are grants out there, but then you have to have a grant writer, and hire engineers and so on."

He said luckily the breach occurred in the spring and not mid-summer when water supplies are already strained. Nevertheless, Dean said, workers have already started attempts to get the ditch back into service.

At left, Harold Chamberlin, a ditch rider with the Bloomfield Irrigation District, works with district foreman Mike Meidinger as he operates a backhoe while making a temporary road, Monday during repairs for the Bloomfield Irrigation Ditch off County Road 4655 in Blanco.

The Bloomfield breach comes not long after a broken siphon on Friday forced water to be shut off to Navajo Agricultural Products Industry farmlands.

NAPI CEO Wilton Charley said today that officials were continuing to evaluate what caused the break, as well as developing an alternative to restart service.

He said NAPI's canal system is filled to capacity and part of the assessment includes prioritizing which crops will receive water.

The two water breaches are not related, but they both illustrate the challenges of moving water through northern New Mexico.

"That's the thing about water," Dean said. "Sometimes the more you try and control it, the harder it gets."

Reporter Noel Lynn Smith contributed to this story. 

Brett Berntsen covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606.