Breach highlights need for alternative water source

Particularly in light of a large ditch breach this week, Bloomfield is looking for alternative water sources, including drawing water from an aquifer that runs under the San Juan River

Hannah Grover
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 section of bank in the Bloomfield Irrigation District Ditch collapsed Sunday evening.
  • Bloomfield was awarded $220,000 of capital outlay money to help find an alternative source of water.
  • Repairing the ditch will cost more than $150,000, according to the irrigation district chairman.

FARMINGTON — Officials say a recent breach in the Bloomfield Irrigation District Ditch that has forced the city to rely on its reserve drinking water is an example of why Bloomfield needs to find an alternative source of water.

An 80-foot stretch of bank along the ditch that supplies the city with drinking water collapsed Sunday evening and was discovered Monday morning. The headgate to the ditch was closed on Monday, and Bloomfield has been using reserve water since then.

Representatives from the city and irrigation district will meet with the public at 1 p.m. Monday at the Bloomfield Multi-Cultural Center, 333 S. First St., to update residents on progress being made to restore water.

The city was awarded $220,000 of capital outlay money this year for the second phase of a study to determine whether it could draw water from beneath the San Juan River. City manager Eric Strahl said a firm will work this year at the Rio de San Juan Park to determine the water quality in the aquifer and how much water could be drawn from it.

Teresa Brevik, the city's special projects director, said having a well that could pump water from the aquifer would allow the city to have more water security.

"Redundancy is very key," she said.

A secondary water source is necessary because the irrigation ditch occasionally gets blocked or breaches. This week is not the first time Bloomfield residents have been asked to conserve water due to the ditch being breached. In 2000, a rock slide cut off water to the city for 12 days, and a similar incident in 1997 cut off water for eight days, according to  Daily Times archives.

Bloomfield has a secondary surface diversion from the San Juan River near Largo Wash to a small reservoir, but the diversion can only be used when there aren't a lot of sediments in the river, Brevik said. She said the river currently has too much sediment for the city to use the secondary surface diversion.

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.

While banks along the ditch have collapsed in the past, Andrew Dean, the irrigation district chairman, said the ditch has never before had a collapse as large as the current one.

Dean said the district does not know what caused the collapse.

"There's not enough left of the ditch to tell," he said.

Part of what makes the dirt ditch susceptible to collapsing banks is that sections of it are more than 100 years old. Also, the ditch has water in it year-round, making it difficult for crews to perform maintenance and repairs, Dean said.

Dean said repairing the current breach is estimated to cost more than $150,000, and crews will need to complete at least one more week of work. The repairs include installing culverts through the portion of ditch that collapsed. Dean said the culverts were ordered from a company in Greeley, Colo., and are expected to arrive Friday. The culverts should prevent future collapses in the same area of the ditch.

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.

Meanwhile, Aztec began to pump potable water to Bloomfield today, according to a press release from the city of Bloomfield. Aztec's supply is intended to supplement Bloomfield's limited supply, but city officials are still asking Bloomfield residents to conserve water until the ditch is operating again.

In addition to providing Bloomfield with water, the ditch also serves farmers and ranchers, as well as businesses like ConocoPhillips.

"There's a lot of people affected," Dean said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.