BLOOMFIELD — City councilors on Monday approved the city's application for grant money from the state's River Stewardship program that would be used to build a recreation area near South Church Street.

The project, if funded, would improve an area of swamp land just north of the city's wastewater treatment plant.

Bloomfield Program Director Teresa Brevik said the project would benefit water quality in the San Juan River and create a new public park at the same time.

"We're going to try to create a recreational area on the east side on South Church Street," Brevik said on Monday. "If we get the money, it is going to be a recreational pond like the pond in Riverside Park in Aztec. It will better improve that wetlands area. It's one spot that will positively impact downstream users."

The proposed park would include a picnic area and possibly connect to the city's river trail system and include educational signs, Brevik added.

The River Stewardship program, in its first year, is offering $2.3 million in capital outlay funds for statewide projects that improve surface water quality and river habitats throughout New Mexico. The money was secured by Gov. Susana Martinez and the state's Environment Department in a recent legislative session.

"The River Stewardship program is such an integral part of our continuing efforts to protect our water, our most precious natural resource in New Mexico," Gov. Martinez said in a May 22 press release. "In the face of unprecedented wildfires, flooding and drought, it is more important than ever that we look after our rivers and watersheds to secure our water supply, protect our environment and support our local economies."

Martinez, a Republican, is running for reelection against New Mexico Attorney General Gary King, a Democrat. King has said he also supports protection and development of state waters. King said his office's consumer protection fund contributed about $9 million to the Interstate Stream Commission for similar projects.

Melissa May, a natural resource specialist with San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District in Aztec, sent in a funding proposal last week to help pay for invasive species removal and revegetation efforts across nearly 200 acres near Quality Waters in the Navajo Dam area.

"It's a great pool of funding from the state to provide more support for these kinds of projects," May said. "Hopefully we'll secure funding in this area."

The city of Farmington is also applying for the program funding, she said.

Bloomfield's proposal is due to the Environment Department by July 31. Brevik said notification of awards are expected to arrive in late October or early November.

Two landowners who own property in the swamp area will be consulted if funding is secured by the city this fall, Brevik said.

"If and when we get awarded the funding, we'll go to the landowners and see what they prefer — to donate or have the city purchase from them," Brevik said.

Dave Sonnenberg, lead operator at the wastewater treatment plant, said the project would allow the plant to pump treated water into the swamp area for further settling, reducing further the percentages of solids before it is delivered into the San Juan River.

"It ensures that there's further treatment of the water," Sonnenberg said. "That's our whole goal and purpose is to make sure the water we put in the river is as clean and safe as we can."

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4631 and Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.