The Utah Water Resources Board approved emergency financial aid Friday for two Washington County irrigation companies damaged by the New Year's Day Quail Creek dike failure.

The board authorized a 25-year loan of up to a $600,000 to the St. George & Washington Canal Co. and a $100,000 loan to the St. George Valley Irrigation Co. to be repaid during the next 20 years. The loans are interest-free.In addition, the panel said the Washington County Water Conservancy District, which operates Quail Creek, won't have to make a scheduled $368,000 annual payment next month on its state loan on that project.

The one-year grace period will give the district money needed to help it recover from the dike collapse, which caused an estimated $12 million in damage, said board Chairman Wayne Winegar.

"Now you can go to work and get the thing back together," Winegar said.

The main damage suffered by the St. George & Washington Canal Co. was the almost total destruction of its Virgin River diversion dam, which fed irrigation water to about 4,000 acres in the St. George-Washington City area.

"If we don't get the diversion structure back in in the next 35 to 40 days, it's going to be critical for us," said company President Evan Woodbury. "The agricultural impact will be felt by as early as April."

The company also will use the state funds to help repair a one-mile section of canal undercut by the flood waters that also damaged dozens of homes and washed out three bridges over the Virgin River.

"We all recognize this has to be done and has to be done soon," board member Roy Urie said, after the panel unanimously approved the emergency loan.

St. George Valley Irrigation provides water to about 600 acres of land in part of St. George and just southeast of town. A section of it's main pipeline crossing the Virgin River was washed away.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency earlier this week agreed to provide up to 75 percent of the cost of repairing damaged public facilities. But FEMA officials said it would not fund repair work to the Quail Creek dike or to privately owned facilities.