County officials meet with Dammeron Valley residents to find solutions after ‘100-year flood’

Dammeron Valley residents inspect a map of the community and write down possible solutions to the flooding problem on sticky notes pasted on the map, Washington County, Utah, Aug. 13, 2018 | Photo by Spencer Ricks, St. George News

WASHINGTON COUNTY — Washington County officials are seeking solutions for the flooding problem in Dammeron Valley, and they met with the community’s residents Monday to help spur ideas.

Washington County Commission Chairman Zachary Renstrom speaks to Dammeron Valley residents about possible solutions to the flooding problem, Washington County, Utah, Aug. 13, 2018 | Photo by Spencer Ricks, St. George News

Home and property owners in Dammeron Valley, an unincorporated community in Washington County, crowded into the garage at the Dammeron Valley Fire Station. They came to voice their concerns and offer solutions to the Washington County Commissioners and representatives from agencies that included Washington County Emergency Services, Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Utah Department of Transportation and the Bureau of Land Management.

Damage from the floods

The “100-year storm” that ravaged Dammeron Valley July 12 sent flash floods through homes and down the streets and ended with a 10-acre pond on the west side of Dammeron Valley, Washington County engineer Todd Edwards said.

Read more: Thunder cell moves through Dammeron Valley ‘with a vengeance’; 200 homes affected, volunteers needed

“An acre is one football field, so to give you an idea if all the water that came down on Dammeron Valley was on one football field, it would be 180 feet deep. And that doesn’t account to all the water that was ponding up elsewhere or soaking in.”

There are a few solutions being considered, such as a diverting water through channels or building detention basins upstream from the community. Both options are costly, with Edwards estimating that four detention basins would cost between $500,000 and $1 million each.

Officials from the Natural Resources Conservation Service are assessing the full damage of the floods in Dammeron Valley for the next two weeks and may be able to provide grants to help fund solutions. In the meantime, county officials are still hoping to nail down a solution.

Washington County engineer Todd Edwards presents a map that shows areas where water flooded into Dammeron Valley last month, Washington County, Utah, Aug. 13, 2018 | Photo by Spencer Ricks, St. George News

“If a fire comes through the hills and burns off some of the vegetation, the soil would get hydrophobic and we could get floods like this with much less rainfall,” Edwards said. “That’s why I think it’s critical to do something upstream.”

Instead of taking more than a few questions from the group after the presentations, the county commissioners asked people who came to the meeting to come to them directly and speak with some of the other officials to share their ideas on how to solve the problem. Using sticky notes on a large map of Dammeron Valley, several people marked areas the county could focus on.

Read more: County offers tax break for flooded Dammeron Valley homes

Solutions from the residents

Beth Dunford owns a home that was flooded by mud and water. She had to remove all of the floors in her home, tear out drywall and replace her deck.

“I’m living in pretty much a mess,” Dunford said. “It’s been pretty devastating, and I know that I’m not the worst too.”

Dunford was disappointed the meeting was more focused on throwing ideas around instead of committing to specific solutions to the problem. She also said she didn’t think it was constructive to split up everyone and ask them to talk with officials separately instead of “hearing what we had to say as a community.”

Many of the older neighborhoods in Dammeron Valley were not built with drainage ditches or channels, so one of the first things the county needs to do is address the drainage of some older neighborhoods in the area, Dunford said.

Washington County Commissioner Dean Cox speaks with a Dammeron Valley resident about possible solutions to the flooding problem in the community, Washington County, Utah, Aug. 13, 2018 | Photo by Spencer Ricks, St. George News

Douglas Markham, another Dammeron Valley resident whose home stayed dry but had portions of his driveway and property destroyed by the floods, said he was encouraged by the unity of the agencies coming together and hearing members of the community share solutions.

“What needs to be done now is find a collective solution,” Markham said. “If they try to reroute water on an individual basis, it’s just going to be like a Band-Aid.”

Collection ponds at the base of the mountains is a good idea, he said, but making sure there is enough drainage for water to get under state Route 18 and around the subdivisions is another important point of any solution plan.

Taking action

While the county commissioners passed off the blame for the inadequate drainage systems around some of the older neighborhoods to their predecessors, they promised to make sure something is done to fix the problem in the future.

“We came this evening with the full intent on hearing and listening to your ideas so we can make sure that we are wise stewards of the dollars that we spend to make this a more disaster-resilient community,” commissioner Dean Cox said.

Residents crowd into the Dammeron Valley Fire Station to share their ideas on how to remedy the flooding problem in the community, Washington County, Utah, Aug. 13, 2018 | Photo by Spencer Ricks, St. George News

Hearing from people directly about what kinds of solutions are out there has provided valuable insight, commission chairman Zachary Renstrom told St. George News.

People in Dammeron Valley are passionate about their community and are full of good ideas, he said.

“We had several landowners come up to us and offer easements, saying ‘If you want to build a ditch through my property, I pay that easement.’

“These people are willing to help their neighbors and put some skin in the game.”

Finding and completing a solution will be an ongoing process for the next several years, Renstrom said.

While they’re waiting to see what kind of grant they can receive from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, he said they are hoping to have another public meeting in six months to provide an update on the progress.

“If we only get enough money to make one detention basin this year, we’ll only do one detention basin,” Renstrom said. “If we get enough money to do it all, then we’ll do it all. Even as more developments go in here, that’s going to be part of the solution.”

Email: sricks@stgnews.com

Twitter:  @STGnews | @SpencerRicks

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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3 Comments

  • LunchboxHero August 14, 2018 at 1:27 pm

    She also said she didn’t think it was constructive to split up everyone and ask them to talk with officials separately instead of “hearing what we had to say as a community.” <– Because those group talks inevitably either turn into screaming matches, or else one blowhard loudmouth filibusters the whole time to gripe about one tree on his property. Besides, they already know the problem – it's flooding. End of meeting.

    • An actual Independent August 14, 2018 at 8:00 pm

      And since the community had never met as a whole and elected a spokesperson, there was no legitimate community opinion to be expressed in open forum.

  • An actual Independent August 14, 2018 at 7:52 pm

    I thought it was really well handled. They came with proposed solutions, and they were well prepared to accept input. But they would not let it turn into the self centered screaming match that Dammeron Valley meetings are (in)famous for.
    They had proposed solutions, and told us the steps they’ve already taken. There are several agencies that would need to be involved, including County, UDOT, BLM, and SITLA. Anybody who knows anything about government knows that none of them are sitting on huge sums of unallocated budget money in August. The fact that they’ve applied for help and put us on the priority list is a victory in itself.
    People expect and endless army of unpaid volunteers? Well, that’s unrealistic, yet we had that on July 16 when all the local churches closed and asked people to help.

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