Bloomfield Irrigation District officials say lack of maintenance contributed to the problem

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BLOOMFIELD — A more than 40-mile ditch stretching from Blanco to an unincorporated area known as Crawford Mesa has provided farmers, ranchers and other users with water for more than a century.

But a lack of maintenance has caught up with the ditch, board members from the Bloomfield Irrigation District told people during a meeting Tuesday evening. 

"Now these problems on this ditch are getting harder and more frequent," chairman Andrew Dean said. 

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The ditch users felt the impact of the years of disrepair this summer, board members said. Starting in mid-July, the Bloomfield Irrigation District ditch, also known as Citizens Ditch, ran dry in the Crawford Mesa area. At the same time, the ditch was full in the Blanco area to the point that no more water could be added.

Dean said the areas of county Roads 5290 and 5387 in Crawford Mesa were the ones most impacted by the shortages.

The ditch provides water to irrigators, as well as the city of Bloomfield, the Blanco Mutual Domestic Water Users Association, two corporations and the Harvest Gold water system. 

Dean compared the irrigation district to a transportation company. 

"All we're in charge of is moving the water," Dean said.

The Bloomfield Irrigation District can draw up to 165 cubic feet of water per second from the San Juan River, water that is then transported down the ditch. In the first 31 miles of the ditch, there are about 100 head gates that divert water to land with water rights. In the final 11 miles of the ditch, there are about 210 head gates.  

Board member Dale Archuleta said somewhere between Blanco and Bloomfield, the ditch is losing water.

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"It's a shame that you own all this water, and we can't get it to you," board member Leonard Trujillo said.

Because of the shortages, the irrigation district has announced that head gates must be shut on certain days. That includes the head gate to the city of Bloomfield reservoir. Tags have been placed on head gates to inform ditch users of what days they should be closed.

That has met some resistance from users who have opened head gates after the district has closed them. Board members said they understand the frustration.

"Our business is to get water to the end of the ditch," Archuleta said. 

There are various factors that board members know have contributed to the water shortages. Those include high demand, hot weather, breaches, leaks, overgrown vegetation and beavers.

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There are also unknown conditions in the ditch that could be contributing to the shortages.

When a ditch user who attended the meeting asked about maintenance and inspection, Dean acknowledged that the ditch has not had the maintenance and inspections it needs. The tunnels and siphons on the 100-year-old ditch were not designed in a way that makes them easy to inspect, he said.

"As of right now, there's no safe way to inspect," Dean said. 

That means a log could be stuck in a tunnel or a tunnel could have partially collapsed, and the irrigation district would not know. Irrigation district officials plan on clearing trees around the ditch and inspecting the tunnels and siphons after the irrigation season is over in the fall.

"We've got to get where we can at least see that ditch," he said.

The board approved hiring a part-time employee and purchasing an old vehicle to help meet the maintenance and repair demands. Part of the new employee's job will be identifying the locations of head gates and looking for places that need repair.

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

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