Local officials give a 'collective sigh of relief' but heavy rains still to come

WASHINGTON COUNTY – The Trees Ranch dam is holding and will not break, according to experts who examined the dam today.
 
“Water coming through the drains on the dam is clear, which makes us think that the structure is sound,” said Nathan Moses, Assistant Regional Engineer with the Utah Governor’s Office, Division of Water Rights.
 
The Trees Ranch dam is an “earthen” structure, made of dirt and filled with clay.
 
“There’s still some concern. We’re going to monitor and observe that,” said Kurt Vest, Regional Engineer with the Utah Department of Water Rights.
 
“We’re very cautiously optimistic,” said Washington County Commissioner Jim Eardley. “We’re not out of the woods yet.”
 
Current weather forecasts have the rain continuing through Wednesday night.
 
The flooding in southern Utah in 2005 helped the region prepare for the massive rainfall it experienced this week.
 
“After 2005, all of our waterways were analyzed and engineered, so (now) we find ourselves in a better situation,” Eardley said.
 
“The wildcard in all this is the chance for the (Trees Ranch) dam to be compromised in a catastrophic way,” Eardley continued. “If that would have occurred then we would have had a historic event in Washington County. We would have had something occur that has never happened before. Hopefully that will be avoided.”
 
State Route 9 at La Verkin is being reopened. Leadership of the townships of Rockville and Virgin, which were evacuated earlier today, will help determine when their residents can return to their homes.
 
Gunlock is still “semi-cut off,” according to Eardley. The only passage into and out of Gunlock right now is Sand Cove Road, a dirt road that is only accessible to vehicles with 4-wheel drive.
 
Officials are asking residents to avoid all dirt roads.
 
Both reservoirs at Enterprise are filled to capacity and will overflow, but this is not expected to create a hazardous situation.
 
According to officials, the Virgin River reached its peak at 2 pm today and, as of the 5:30 pm press conference, had receded three feet.
 
Washington County has received 11 inches of rain in the past few days. Usually Washington County receives an average of eight inches of rain in a year.
 
“We appreciate the rain, but that’s enough!” Eardley said lightheartedly.
 
More than anything, officials want people to know that everything is okay.
 
“We’re giving a collective sigh of relief,” said Eardley. “We’re going to be all right.”

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