WASHINGTON COUNTY – While the rain and flooding are not over, Washington County is doing fairly well, according to local officials at a 12:30 p.m. press conference.
“We have weathered the deluge so far,” said Gary Esplin, St. George City Manager.
At 7:30 this morning, Washington County officials surveyed areas of concern in the county using a Utah Public Safety Commission helicopter.
“As we flew throughout the county as a whole, it seemed to be very well channeled,” said Washington County Commissioner Dennis Drake. “The waters were forming well. The floodwaters were staying within their banks.”
According to Esplin, several city trails have experienced significant damage, and two pedestrian bridges at golf courses have been washed out. However, there is currently no real public property damage and no private property damage.
Officials emphasized how the floods in 2005 helped Washington County and local cities prepare for this event.
“The riprap that was put in for channel protection (after the 2005 floods) has, in my opinion, saved us from having significant water damage from the water coming out of the river,” said Esplin.
Riprap is rock or similar material used to armor streambeds, shorelines, and other structures against water erosion.
“The lack of erosion control (in the 2005 flood) was what was taking down those homes…more than the amount of water that was being generated,” said Esplin.
“The erosion control (that we have now) is why we’re not seeing, in my opinion, more widespread damage like we had in 2005.” Esplin said.
Peak flows of the Virgin River are expected to hit Springdale at 1 pm on Wednesday, Virgin at 3 pm, Santa Clara at 10 pm, and Bloomington at 1 a.m. on Thursday morning.
According to Pete Kuhlmann, Washington County Emergency Manager, some communities in the West Mountain area are currently isolated, largely because their dirt roads are currently impassable. However, those communities have been resupplied via helicopter and all the people are fine.
North Gunlock Road is still closed but South Gunlock Road is open for residential traffic only. Officials are continuing to monitor South Gunlock Road.
“We encourage the public to do what you can to make sure that we’re not blocking access routes for (first-responders),” Kuhlmann said.
“Make sure that you stay away from flood plains, flood areas, and streambeds,” Kuhlmann warned. “Our ground is completely saturated, so the stream banks are inclined to slough off into the creek. We encourage everybody to stay away from areas that are affected and to pay attention to (safety) warnings in the media and social media.”
Marc Mortensen, Lead Public Information Officer for Washington County, thanked those who are “retweeting” flood information on Twitter.
“Information dissemination has been phenomenal,” Mortensen said.
Yesterday, officials feared that the Trees Ranch dam was in imminent danger of failure. However, David Marble, a dam expert from the Utah State Engineering Department, examined the Trees Ranch dam today and told officials he feels there is no immediate danger coming from the dam. The water level in the dam has receded five feet from where it was yesterday. Officials are continuing to monitor the dam.
Officials have been overwhelmed with volunteer responses from the public, particularly from construction crews and contractors.
“We’ve had more contractors than we could ever use asking us if they could help – donating equipment, donating manpower, and not ever asking if they would be paid or compensated,” Esplin said. “Quite frankly, these people saved some of our ditches and helped us get through this….I think that shows what southern Utah is made of.”
Up-to-the-minute information about the flood is available on Twitter by searching for “#wacoflood” or following @sgcitypubsafety. Information is also available on the “Washington County 2010 Flood” Facebook page.
Dixie Press will continue to update at www.facebook.com/dixiepress and on www.twitter.com/stgeorgeutah.com.