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Emergency manager delivers grim report at county meeting

Jun 15, 2023 09:48AM ● By Linda Petersen

Morgan County Emergency Manager Austin Turner had no good news for county commissioners as he reported to them on the state of flooding in the county on May 2.

“I almost convinced myself that we were going to be ok,” he said, “but I don’t know.”

An obviously exhausted Turner got emotional at times as he described for the commissioners the signs, he was already seeing of what could be catastrophic flooding over the next couple of months as the snow melts.

East Canyon Reservoir was gaining three feet a day in run off and was expected to spill over in 10 to 11 days, he reported. Water was already running across Jeremy Ranch Road, he said. Harts Gravel, considered a mid-level snow site, should have just one inch of water in the snowpack at this time of year in an average year, he said. “We’re over 27 inches of water. There’s a significant amount of snow that’s still yet to come down to that area.” 

If warm weather continues and the high-level snow begins to melt soon “the party’s over,” he said.

Weber Basin Water Conservancy District actions in slowing down the flow from East Canyon Reservoir to mitigate flooding in Weber County have been criticized by the Army Corps of Engineers, Turner said. “Everything we slowed down out of East Canyon is now coming out of Harts Gravel,” he said.

Several efforts by Morgan County have helped hold off some flooding but those efforts are already starting  becoming ineffective, he said.  

County crews are starting to see flooding in Croydon from the mid-level snow melt, he said. Areas already affected also include Highland Road, portions of Porterville and the Deep Creek area, Turner said. Peterson Creek was “holding its own” at that point, but Weber Basin had closed down Echo Reservoir, he said. The river flows have benefitted from the reservoirs being at around 25 percent capacity but with the high-level snow not having melted, that situation is not going to continue, Turner said. “At the top of Lookout Peak at Hart’s Gravel there’s still 51 inches of water in the snow.”

Turner praised the “amazing volunteers” who had been turning out to fill sandbags over the last few weeks, but the county is now running out of sandbags, he said. The county is going to need to prioritize its resources and use what sandbags it has to protect homes and infrastructure, he added. “We don’t have enough sandbags to do what needs to be done. We’re going to be overwhelmed, and we’re going to have to do everything we can just to protect people’s homes and infrastructure.”

Although many residents would like help to preserve property and outbuildings, that’s just not going to be possible as the flooding gets worse, he said. “I’m afraid there’s not enough sandbags in the state of Utah to do that anymore.”

Turner said there has already been criticism from some residents on how the county has handled some flooding situations. Usually, it’s because they don’t understand the full ramifications of the actions they would like the county to take, he said. During a recent flooding incident residents wanted the county crew to breach roadways to help with flooding, for example, but were unaware that there was a four-inch gas main under a gravel bar there they wanted dug out, he said.

“I want to make sure in the public setting[of the commission meeting] that residents … understand we are doing everything possible to hang on” Jared Anderson commented.  “… For as long as we can,” Turner chimed in.

Turner also cautioned residents to stay well clear of stream banks and other waterways because the water is flowing so fast. He and his crew had attempted to stabilize a bridge above East Canyon Reservoir with 2,100-pound sandbags. They returned the next day to find eight of the huge sandbags had been swept downstream.

“If you think you can jump in a stream and do ok – if you’re stronger than a 2,000-pound sandbag, maybe,” he said.

Commissioners and Turner urged all residents to consult with the county before engaging in any kind of mitigation efforts beyond sandbagging their homes. They could inadvertently make things worse for their neighbors, they said. Turner shared an example of a resident who had cleared a streambed and bank of shrub and brush only to discover that this had undermined the bank.

Commissioners urged the public to report flooding incidents on the county website which has been set up with a link and also to report volunteer hours there. Documenting all efforts could be critical as the impacts of flooding are felt, they said. If FEMA is called in, as seems likely, they will work with Turner and county officials to determine what has been done in terms of mitigation. Having that information could be critical, he said.

The next couple of months will be tough, he said.

At the end of Turner’s presentation commissioners urged Turner to go home and get some rest. He shook his head. “I’m going back to work,” he said. λ

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