Officials prepare for spring floods

By Josh Loftin

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Dec. 2 2011 10:08 p.m. MST

Big Cottonwood Creek photographed on Thursday, April 2, 2009. State and county officials are beginning preparations for next year with a wary eye toward the state's reservoirs.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

SALT LAKE CITY — After coming out of this year's spring flooding with damage limited mostly to Utah farmlands, state and county officials are beginning preparations for next year with a wary eye toward the state's reservoirs.

Reservoirs already are nearly full and could be overflowing before snow begins to melt in 2012, said Randy Julander, a supervisor with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Julander was one of about two dozen officials who met Thursday at the Utah Capitol to discuss preparedness and recount the lessons learned during this year's flooding.

Last year at this time, the statewide average for reservoirs was 60 percent of capacity, Julander said. This year, that average has jumped to 85 percent.

For many officials, the most important preventive measure is dredging river channels to clear sediment.

But many of those in attendance Thursday said it can be very difficult to get the needed permits for maintenance.

While regulatory hurdles are a major reason for the delays, Weber County Commissioner Kerry Gibson said it can be made more difficult if local agencies fail to coordinate with each other or state and federal officials.

"We have a lot of these channels that are not functioning," Gibson said. "We have to have a regional and concerted effort to make sure these systems function ... local government can lead the charge, but they can't do it alone."

Flooding this year damaged agricultural land, but for the most part spared populated areas.

At the time, Gov. Gary Herbert said the averted catastrophe was due in large part to the work of officials and volunteers who shored up river banks with sandbags.

There was also water released from reservoirs in the weeks before the heaviest snowmelt, which pushed rivers to their brink without flooding them.

Those kinds of preparations will be needed again this year if things are expected to go as smoothly, said Washington County Administrator Dean Cox.

"Last year, we danced with the gorilla and got away with it," Cox said.

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