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Residents should prepare for 'acute' flooding, Herbert says

Published: Friday, May 6 2011 4:39 p.m. MDT

Governor Gary Herbert conducts a press conference Friday, May 6, 2011 from the Emergency Operations Center at the State Capitol. Several other State Officials talked about being prepared for possible flooding this weekend.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert said Utah residents should be prepared for "acute" flooding over the next several weeks and take steps to protect their families, neighbors and property.

Herbert, joined Friday by other officials at the state's Emergency Operations Center, said the recent warming trend, coupled with a pending storm Sunday and Monday, should have residents on heightened alert.

"We need to be prepared for acute flooding that will happen in the next few days," the governor said.

Rivers, he stressed, are already at 79 to 97 percent of capacity and "it's not going to take much to get them to go over their banks."

A state program, Be Ready Utah posts updates on its website and via Twitter. In addition, it offers a downloadable document providing a host of tips designed to help residents recognize dangers and minimize risk of injury or death due to floods.

Ryan Longman, program manager of Be Ready Utah, said it was created after the 2005 floods. He noted the value of keeping up to date with information via social media, pointing out that Herriman used a blog, its Facebook page and Twitter account to alert residents of last year's fire at Camp Williams started by a training exercise.

Another program, Utahemergencyinfo.com, was touted at the Friday event as a way for residents to get updated information regarding flooding threats. It, too, has a Facebook and Twitter account. Another way to get information for non-computer users is to call 211.

Brian McInerney, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, said the problem is the snowpack is generally double that of normal, with double the normal water content and it has to come off the mountains in half the amount of time.

This next storm in particular threatens Cache County, the Weber River, Chalk Creek and Emigration Creek in Salt Lake County, McInerney said, adding the flooding problems will be among several events that will play out over the course of the next six weeks.

Despite the tremendous amount of snowpack left to melt, officials said they do not believe the chaos that came in 1983 will be replicated. Infrastructure improvements have been vast, and Herbert stressed Utahns are good at making advance preparations.

With that in mind, he urged people to pay attention to the news, have a plan of action, prepare a 72-hour kit and check the status of flood insurance.

"We don't have the power in the private sector or in government to withstand Mother Nature," but both groups have the ability to meet her head on with plans in place, Herbert said.

Lance Davenport, commissioner of the Utah Department of Public Safety, said the front-line response will rest with cities and towns, which in turn can lean on counties for help. Should the state need to wade in to help, Herbert assured residents it would. The state's Emergency Operations Center is monitoring the flood situation but is not on alert yet, Davenport said.

The 16-member team can be mobilized rapidly, he added.

In addition to the flooding tips outlined at Friday's conference, the U.S. Geological Survey has a 9-month-old program called Water Alert.

Cory Angeroth, hydrologist/chief in the agency's Utah Water Science Center, said about 20,000 subscribers have signed on nationwide to receive hourly or daily alerts via texts or email about streamflow thresholds.

The survey monitors flows in real time at a network of gauges established and maintained by the agency. Through the program

subscribers can set parameters on particular waterways of interest and be notified should conditions meet or surpass the threshold. The program will help relay critical information to the state's water managers tasked with balancing reservoir levels against already swollen rivers downstream.

Residents who live along creeks, streams or rivers can subscribe to the free service, which is also available to fishing enthusiasts or river runners who want to know stream flows.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com Twitter: amyjoi16

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