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Morgan County gets ready for possible flooding

Mar 16, 2023 11:41AM ● By Linda Petersen

This Bureau of Reclamation chart shows that East Canyon Reservoir is already at 31,024 acre feet – 90 percent of the average usually seen at the reservoir. Courtesy image

Morgan County is preparing for a higher-than-average spring runoff precipitated by a record-breaking snowpack this year. At the March 7 county commission meeting, Emergency Manager Austin Turner gave commissioners a report.

“I’ve been keeping an eye on the snowpack for quite a while,” he said. Referring to recent state media stories on potential flooding, he said he and County Public Works Director Bret Heiner had seen a significant increase in phone calls. “There’s a lot of people out there concerned, and they’re probably rightfully concerned.”

At that meeting, Turner presented a proposed sandbag policy that he suggested the county adopt. (Commissioners subsequently approved the new policy.)

Under the new policy, the county will provide sand for sandbags at the Morgan County Fairgrounds and Kent Smith Park. Property owners will be responsible for furnishing their own sandbags.

Turner said they considered the experiences neighboring counties had had in coming up with the policy. During previous flooding, a neighboring county gave out sandbags freely to anyone who requested them but was left short for its own needs, he said. “People came and picked up all the sandbags. Then when there was flooding, the county had no sandbags.”

If the county hands out sandbags to everyone, some who do not need them may hold on to them just in case, and others who have a greater need will be left short, he said.

So far, the county has brought in four dump truck loads of sand to the fairgrounds and two loads to Kent Smith Park. They are also considering a third site in the Mountain Green area, Turner said. Although the county is asking individual property owners to provide their own sandbags, if there is a greater need due to excessive flooding, the county will provide more assistance, he said.

 “If it looks like the flood waters are going to top your sandbags, the county will step in at that point and provide sandbags and sand,” he said. “In the initial phases, as we’re waiting for that potential to happen, we don’t want to hand out a bunch of sandbags until there’s active flooding or within a couple of days of active flooding.”

Turner said he has been meeting with National Weather Service representatives about the potential for flooding in Morgan County. Although there has been a record snowpack, whether there is flooding will depend more on when and how quickly the spring warm up occurs, he said. The National Weather Service hydrologist will give him a three-day warning of any potential flooding. 

Turner has also been monitoring conditions in the East Canyon Reservoir and other local drainage areas.

“I am in contact with Weber Basin at least weekly on flows out of the reservoirs and the things they’re preparing to do,” he said. “They were going to do a big flow at the beginning of March but have pushed it back to April.”

After Commissioner Blaine Fackrell expressed concern that local residents might experience sandbag shortages or price gouging for sandbags, Turner said he would ensure they would be taken care of.

“When it comes time, and we know that the flooding is near, we will come in; if you guys will provide the manpower, we’re going to come in with more sandbags and more sand as needed,” he said. “If we need to, we’ll bring in semi-truck loads of sand.”

Turner said if flooding occurs, he will coordinate with local community groups such as wards of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to make sure county residents have enough sandbags. He advised residents not to prefill sandbags too far in advance to ensure they do not degrade before they are needed. In the meantime, Turner urged local residents to prepare for possible flooding by removing snow that is less than five feet from their structures and clearing rooftops of heavy snow.

In addition to its sandbagging effort, the county has also lined up the use of heavy equipment in case it is needed to ensure the integrity of local bridges and other infrastructure, Turner said. 

He is working on channels to be able to alert the public quickly of any potential flooding and hopes to have a social media channel operational shortly. He will also work with the county webmaster to get alerts posted to the county website as quickly as possible, he said.

County commissioners thanked Turner for his efforts and said they hoped that local residents would do what they could to prepare for potential flooding. 

“The hope is at this point that those who feel like they are in danger will take some preemptive measure to protect their property and realize that the cost to protect your own property does fall on you as the property owner,” Commission Chair Mike Newton said. “The county doesn’t go out and try to protect property when there’s a wind event; we will help clean up when we can, and the same goes for flooding. We want to make sure that we’re managing our resources in the best way possible. If everybody comes and takes 10 sandbags and doesn’t need them, and we need 100 at somebody’s house, we’re in trouble. So the idea is to protect your property now if you need to, and otherwise, the county does have your back, and we’ll do our best to make sure that you’re taken care of when there is need.”

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