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BLOOMFIELD — Bloomfield Irrigation District officials say a "perfect storm" of events could cause the 42-mile ditch to flood and potentially damage houses.

The officials met with U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-New Mexico, today to discuss funding for the ditch's maintenance, as well as upgrades and repairs.

Luján said all of the involved stakeholders need to meet about what can be done to keep the ditch running and delivering water.

"This is something real and immediate," he said.

The ditch, which was built more than 100 years ago, provides water to thousands of customers, including the city of Bloomfield, the Blanco Mutual Domestic Water Users Association, two corporations, the Harvest Gold water system owned by AV Water Co. and about 2,500 local irrigators.

"It’s important for everyone to be part of the success of this system," Luján said.

He said the ditch is unique because of its role in providing Bloomfield and two other water systems all of their drinking water.

After meeting with the Bloomfield Irrigation District officials, Luján said he is optimistic the stakeholders will work together to find a solution to keep the ditch operating.

Little maintenance has been performed on the ditch since it first began delivering water in 1912. Now, officials are trying to catch up, said Leonard Trujillo, board chairman of the Bloomfield Irrigation District.

Irrigation district officials showed Luján photos of the aging infrastructure, including wooden spill gates that were installed in 1908 and siphons added in 1946 after World War II.

Board member Andrew Dean said the ditch is also overgrown with Russian olives, salt cedar — also known as tamarisk — and willows. He said there are portions of the ditch officials cannot walk or drive on to inspect.

Trujillo said the irrigation district needs money because it is trying to get ahead of potential "catastrophes."

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," he said.

But, as board members stressed, the irrigation district does not have the funds to complete all of the work needed to prevent possible future problems. Members stressed everyone who benefits from the ditch needs to shoulder some of the burden of keeping it operational.

"We’re going to prosper together, and we’re going to suffer together," Dean said.

Board member Dale Archuleta said the Bloomfield Irrigation District is currently going from one breach to the next to complete repairs.

In May, a breach in the ditch cut off supplies for thousands of water users, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair. The state refunded some of those expenses.

"If one more thing would have happened, we would have been (financially) insolvent," Dean said.

AV Water officials have attributed that breach to high turbidity readings, which sparked a boil water advisory for the Harvest Gold water system in June. The customers are still on a boil water advisory.

Board members expressed frustration that the largest customer — the city of Bloomfield — has not been willing to shoulder more of the ditch's operational costs. Dean said other users, including the 2,500 irrigators, have agreed to increased rates.

More than a year ago, the Bloomfield Irrigation District sent a letter to the city of Bloomfield asking to increase rates for delivering the water to the city. The city currently pays 7 cents for every 1,000 gallons. The city uses an average of 426 million gallons of water each year.

Bloomfield City Manager Eric Strahl said the city and the irrigation district have different opinions about the contract and whether or not the irrigation district "can unilaterally increase rates." He said the city has offered to help, but the two entities have not come to an agreement.

Dean said Bloomfield offered to provide maintenance work, but the irrigation district was concerned about liability if a city employee was injured while working on the ditch.

Bloomfield has been looking for alternative sources of water, and the city has received capital outlay money to study the feasibility of installing pumps under the San Juan River.

Strahl said the preliminary engineering has been completed, but no wells have been drilled to determine whether it could be a reliable source of water.

"It all depends on what kind of drilling results they get," he said.

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

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