Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times Ken Stubbs, who maintains the irrigation system, stands next to a rockslide that has blocked off a canal leaving 650
Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times Ken Stubbs, who maintains the irrigation system, stands next to a rockslide that has blocked off a canal leaving 650 customers without water for irrigation. (Augusta Liddic)
KIRTLAND - Thousands of acres of farmland are drying out because a rockslide broke an irrigation ditch in Kirtland.

The water to more than 600 local farmers stopped Saturday morning after thousands of pounds of rockfall landed directly into the Farmers Mutual Ditch sometime Friday night, said Ken Hubbs, who maintains the irrigation system.

The ditch runs north of the San Juan River through Kirtland below a rock cliff. On Tuesday, a pile of rocks covered a 200-foot section of the canal, and ditch operators have stopped its water flow.

In addition to the rockfall, much more rock is precariously positioned on the cliff and likely will require the ditch workers to blast the cliff before construction can start to remove the rock and begin suppling water to farmers, Hubbs said.

"It happens every year, but usually not this big," Hubbs said of rockslides. "This totally shuts us down."

The rock above the ditch is unstable and occasionally slides into the ditch. In April of 2007, a large rockslide about 700 feet from the current slide closed the ditch for more than two weeks, said Lawrence Stock, the chairman of the association's board of directors and a farmer who relies on the ditch.

The area's hay growers are anxious to water their crops soon if they are going to successfully harvest their crop for a second or third time this growing season, Stock said.

About 650 customers who farm 4,200 acres of land rely on the ditch. The customers live in Kirtland, Fruitland and Waterflow. The ditch pulls 110 cubic feet per second of water from the San Juan and Animas rivers, Stock said.


Ditch customers pay annual dues of $75 for their first acre-foot of irrigation water and $25 for each additional acre-foot.

The ditch is trying to receive emergency relief funds from the state because it can't afford to clear the debris without significantly taxing its users, Stock said.

The ditch is estimating the cleanup cost to be $200,000 and take about two weeks.

The New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management sent state officials to Kirtland on Monday to assess the damage, said Nick Piatek, a public information officer for the department.

In the upcoming days, the department will work the ditch association to determine if it is eligible for emergency relief funds to pay for the cleanup, he said.

The Lower Valley Water Association uses the Farmers Mutual Ditch to supply drinking water to nearly 8,000 county residents.

The water association has the ability to pull water from the San Juan River and has 30 million gallons of water in reserve, said Keith Lee, the manager of Lower Valley Water. He said that should be enough to continue to supply drinking water to residents if the Farmers Mutual Ditch is repaired soon.

The water association's output has significantly increased since Saturday as users rely on domestic water for irrigation.

"They don't want to lose their gardens and I don't blame them," he said.