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Officials say efforts to rebuild the ditch bank, which were expected to take about two weeks, are on track

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BLOOMFIELD — Repairs to the irrigation ditch that provides most of Bloomfield's water supply are on schedule, thanks to a collaborative efforts from members of the community, officials said today.

The news came at a public meeting for Bloomfield-area residents, who have been under water conservation orders since an 80-foot section of the canal that feeds the city's reservoir crumbled away last week.

"It’s been an all-out effort," said Leonard Trujillo, a board member of the Bloomfield Irrigation District Ditch. "We’re all working together."

The breach forced officials to shut off the 42-mile ditch, which draws water from the San Juan River and transports it to Bloomfield’s reservoir, as well as multiple agricultural and industrial customers. Bloomfield has been supplementing its reserves with water pumped from Aztec, and the city has about 10 days worth of water left in its reservoir, officials said.

Efforts to rebuild the ditch bank were originally estimated to take two weeks, and Michelle Truby-Tillen of the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management said construction crews are on schedule.

"I’m impressed with the response," said ditch user David Valdez at the meeting. "I think we’re going to have water really soon."

Workers have installed nearly 100 feet of culvert spanning the breach, and will receive the remaining 40-foot section on Wednesday morning, said Andrew Dean, chairman of the irrigation district's board.

Officials said they don't know what exactly cause the breach, but periodic weathering likely played a role in the failure of the more than 100-year-old system. The new culvert, along with an additional 3-foot-deep layer of dirt and clay, will strengthen the section where the breach occurred.

"There won’t be any more seepage there," Dean said.

Dean said multiple ditch users and community members have lent equipment and materials for the repairs. The irrigation district has also applied for emergency funding from the state to reimburse some of their costs, which are estimated between $150,000 and $200,000.

The incident wasn't the first time Bloomfield's water supply has been compromised. 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.

To some members of the community, the periodic problems represent a need to invest in infrastructure repairs.

Bloomfield resident Linda Corwin said ditch users have seen fee increases, but the city has been reluctant to "pay its fair share" for system upkeep.

"You've known about these problems for years, but you've dragged your feet,” Corwin said to city officials today. “If we had more money, we could have been on top of it.”

In response, City Manager Eric Strahl said the city has struggled to find funding for such projects.

“The city isn’t exactly flush for money," he said. "We carry a considerable amount of debt."

Strahl said the city is exploring the possibility of drawing water from the bottom of the San Juan River as a backup source. In the meantime, Strahl said the city has refrained from watering its parks and sports fields while repair work on the ditch continues, and he urged residents to also conserve water.

"Anything residents can do to help makes a difference," he said.

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

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