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Stakeholders met at the Bloomfield Irrigation District's office to discuss problems the ditch is facing and possible solutions

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BLOOMFIELD — If the Bloomfield Irrigation District does not find money for ditch repairs, another breach could happen similar to one in May that left thousands of people without water, district officials said during a round table meeting today  at its offices.

City of Bloomfield, San Juan County, state and federal officials as well as company representatives from Enterprise Products Inc. and ConocoPhillips attended the meeting, which was held to discuss how the community can come together to find the resources needed to fix the ditch. Approximately three dozen people were present.

The ditch, which was built more than 100 years ago, provides drinking water to more than 5,000 customers, including residents in Bloomfield, Blanco and the Harvest Gold subdivision as well water for Enterprise and ConocoPhillips. It also provides irrigation water.

The meeting was spurred by the breach in May. U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., held a meeting in November to discuss the issue and  Luján's staff helped facilitate today's meeting.He praised the response of various agencies and the willingness of stakeholders to meet and discuss the problems with the ditch.

"This is just an example of what happens in New Mexico when everyone comes together," he said.

Andrew Dean, Bloomfield Irrigation District board chairman, said the 100-year-old ditch has so many problems that the district cannot afford to maintain it.

Dean said the ditch is serving a purpose greater than it was originally intended to serve. He said the ditch was built for farmers and now provides water to companies and residential drinking water systems.

Portions of the 42-mile-long ditch have not been accessed in years and little maintenance has been done since it started delivering water in 1912, officials say. Thick Russian olive trees are blocking access to some areas, Dean said.

"Cleaning the ditch banks so we can look at things is the most important thing we can do," Dean said.

Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District coordinator, said the district will look at what funds are available for removal of invasive plant species along the ditch.

"If you tell me where the trees are, I can bring my chainsaw and cut them down for several hours," state Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, said.

In addition to removing brush from the ditch, Dean said there is a 100-foot section that is in danger of breaching. The state provided some funding for repair work related to the May breach, which had been estimated to cost more than $200,000.

"This is going to be a tough year financially in the state," state Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, said during the meeting.

Montoya said it could be hard to find state funding for projects and asked if the irrigation district is raising rates for its water users.

Dean confirmed that it is in the process of raising rates to help pay for some of the repairs and maintenance the ditch needs.

While the irrigation district is looking to pay for projects that include removing vegetation and stabilizing banks, the board's ultimate goal will be to line the ditch with concrete.

"If we had a lined ditch, none of you would be here," Dean said.

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

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