UTAH (ABC4) — Utah has seen unprecedented moisture in the form of snowpack equivalent this year, which means the danger of flooding will increase as it gets warmer. Gov. Spencer Cox and several other state agency representatives spoke at a press conference on Thursday, April 13, about what Utahns should do about flooding.

Cox began by addressing the State on the issue of current flooding. Cox said that due to the historical snowpack, and spring thaw, there are potholes across Utah, sinkholes in Kaysville, a mudslide in Parley’s Canyon Thursday morning, a rockslide up Fairview Canyon, and flooding in Emigration Canyon Wednesday night. Cox said this would only continue as the weather warms up.

“We are sure these flooding conditions will continue in the coming months, we are really just at the front end of getting all that record water downstream,” Cox said. “We understand that floods are very likely, as we continue. We want people, citizens, counties, and communities to continue to prepare for whatever may come, over the next two-plus months.”

Cox said that the State has been very proactive in helping our cities and towns prepare, getting them the State funding to ensure they have the supplies they need. According to Kris Hamlet, with the Department of Emergency Management, Cox told Hamlet last Fall, that he had a gut feeling there would be flooding in the spring. It’s a good thing Cox had that feeling because he asked the State legislature for $5 million in flood mitigation.

There has been a great collaboration between State and local agencies to secure heavy equipment, water pumps, and sandbag machines, Cox stated. They have also worked on clearing drainages and removing debris from culverts. Cox said they have already gotten 1.4 million sandbags to communities in need and will be prepared for more.

But while the State has been working hard for flood preparation and mitigation, Cox said citizens also need to do what they can to prepare. He said with the pause in flooding, due to decreasing temperatures, there’s a break in the action.

Some tips from Cox are to pay attention to local conditions, stay away from fast-moving rivers and streams, fill sandbags if you can, ask for help if needed, and seek more information on flooding from government sources. See how to prepare for flooding based on government information here.

Hamlet then addressed the state on the role of the Department of Emergency Management in flooding. Hamlet said that Utah has one of the nation’s best disaster recovery accounts, which means that Utah has finances to assist in recovery after natural disasters.

While many will want to volunteer to help with recovery, Hamlet said that being safe is going to be the number one priority. “Those waters are cold, they’re fast, and if you wade in them, play in them, [or] step in them, you may get swept off your feet,” Hamlet said. “You don’t know what debris and hazardous materials might be in those waterways.”

Joel Ferry with the Department of Natural Resources then spoke on the impact on water and infrastructure. He noted that many have been comparing this year to the historic flooding in the 80s, in 1983, 1945, and 1985. So how does this year’s flooding compare to the 1980s?

“We have to look at what we have done, as a State […] to prepare for this situation. We’ve done quite a bit. We’ve improved culverts, we’ve improved infrastructure, and we’ve built several new reservoirs […] on systems that flooded back in the 80s.” Ferry said. “Improvements and investments that are going to help us manage these flood waters.”

However, Ferry noted that as a State, we are still in uncharted territory. He said with the snowpack water equivalent, we are still setting records.

“The moisture that we have isn’t just 10 years, 50 years, 100 years, this is an all-time State record,” Ferry said.

But that snowpack has to come down at some point and he said that Utahns need to be prepared.

Kim Shelley, the executive director of the Department of Environmental Quality, spoke about water quality and safety. She said that while Utah’s record-breaking snow is great for the State’s ongoing drought, and for water bodies such as the Great Salt Lake.

“Flooding can lead to a number of environmental concerns including water contamination,” Shelley said.

She said that the public should err on the side of caution when it comes to flood water and drinking water at this time. Shelley said it’s best to assume all flood water is contaminated with bacteria, viruses, and chemicals. She then gave some tips on how to mitigate the risk.

  • Avoid contact with flood water.
  • Do not drink, swim, or wade in flood water.
  • If you must come in contact with floodwater:
    • Cover any wounds with waterproof bandaids.
    • Wash with soap and clean water afterward.
    • Disinfect the wound after coming in contact with flood water.

Shelley also said that those impacted by floods need to pay special attention to their drinking water, especially those who rely on well systems for drinking water. She said you should watch for changes in drink, smell, taste, and appearance. She said until you know it’s safe to consume, don’t wash dishes, brush your teeth, make food, or make baby formula.

You can call the 24-hour DEQ line at (801)-536-4123 if you expect flooding has caused contamination to a water source.

Carlos M. Braceras, with the Utah Department of Transportation, then spoke about the impacts of flooding on transportation. He said they have been preparing for months so they can respond quickly. They said they have developed response plans based on the mudslide in Parley’s Canyon on Thursday and have detours in place as additional material is expected to slide down.

The final speaker was Craig Buttars with the Department of Agriculture and he spoke about the impacts on farmers and ranchers. Buttars said that the flooding in many farming fields impacted their ability to get crops planted. He also said that cattlemen are experiencing a longer time that they need to feed their cattle, as grazing lots are covered in snow. Buttars said they appreciate those who support them, such as agriculture producers.

For more information on flooding mitigation, and how to protect your home, check out ABC4’s article here.