Washington County in 'unchartered territory'

WASHINGTON COUNTY – Washington County is in a state of emergency due to flooding and a potential dam rupture.
 
The Trees Ranch Reservoir and dam, a privately-owned reservoir and dam near Springdale, is leaking and could be on the verge of breaking.
 
Washington County is bringing experts from Cedar City to determine if, when, and how the dam could break.
 
“Water is flowing through the dam in places,” said Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith. “This could be a serious threat to the community.”
 
Never before has Washington County faced the potential of river flooding and a dam breakage at the same time.
 
If the dam fails, “we are in uncharted territory in Washington County, as far as flooding goes,” Smith said.
 
Washington County Commissioner Jim Eardley said, “This could exceed the dam failure at Quail Creek.”
 
The Quail Creek dam failed on January 1, 1988.
 
The Trees Ranch dam is an earthen structure that is 86 feet tall. If the dam completely breaks, the depth of the Virgin River could double. The break would impact every community downriver, including Beaver Dam, Arizona, and Mesquite, Nevada.
 
If the dam breaks, the surge of water will reach residents within a few hours. The surge would travel between seven and ten miles per hour.
 
Rockville has been evacuated.
 
Old Highway 91, south of Gunlock Reservoir, was inundated with water from the Santa Clara River early this morning. Though waters have receded in the Santa Clara River and Old Highway 91 is no longer covered, the road remains closed until experts can assess the road for damage.
 
Due to the closure of Old Highway 91, Old Sand Cove Road, a dirt road, has been opened for emergency egress in communities near Gunlock Reservoir.
 
State Route 9 is also closed at La Verkin.
 
According to Johnny Heppler, Public Relations officer with the St. George Police Department, the city experienced an overwhelming volunteer response for sandbagging and does not currently need volunteers.
 
“Please hold off on responding to the volunteer center,” Heppler said. “We have enough volume of volunteers. Please put your affairs in order. We may need more volunteers later.”
 
Sewer seepage into the Virgin River has been fixed. Drinking water is currently fine. However, Heppler cautioned citizens to stay away from the Virgin River and avoid contact with water from the river.
 
No structures within St. George city limits are currently threatened. However, citizens with basements, especially in Bloomington, should move their possessions to a higher level of the house.
 
Residents should avoid low-lying areas. If you live near the Virgin River, think about what valuables you wouldn’t want to lose and put them in your car so that you can move them quickly.
 
If a police officer tells you to not enter an area, follow their instructions.
 
“Your safety is our most important concern,” said Washington County Public Information Officer Dean Cox. “Please help us by avoiding flooded areas. Don’t go looking for trouble and please don’t create more problems for emergency workers.”
 
Washington County is working with the American Red Cross to prepare shelters in the event of widespread evacuation. The Hurricane Community Center will also be available for those who need shelter.
 
However, officials encourage citizens to stay with friends or family or in a motel and  think about “(making) a little vacation of it.”
 
Even people who live in homes that were not affected in the 2005 floods need to prepare for flooding.
 
Though the Trees Ranch dam has not broken, areas near the dam are being evacuated. Because officials are aware that it could break, officials and citizens in Washington County have time to prepare.
 
Washington County could receive 24-36 more hours of rain.
 
“We have more rain coming,” said Cox. “We are not done yet.”
 
For up-to-date information about the flooding, citizens should follow #wacoflood and @sgcitypubsafety on Twitter.

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