MORGAN -- After an unprecedented meeting of state and federal water experts, Morgan County officials are saying residents are the best line of defense for upcoming flooding.
The April 28 meeting was attended by representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Utah Division of Water Rights, Utah Division of Water Quality, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Morgan County engineer, and Morgan County Council members Robert Kilmer, Ronda Kippen and Tina Kelley.
"Ten people showing up from state and federal agencies is further evidence that we have some flooding likely to take place," said County Engineer Mark Miller. "In all the years I've worked with people in different agencies, I've never been able to get that many people together."
Miller said water experts expect flooding, as well as water to be spilling over East Canyon Dam in the next few weeks.
"When I walked away that day, (I believe) their feeling is, the river should go out of its banks in its regular floodplain," Miller said. "But if there is a life-safety issue, the county council decides those issues."
Kippen said property owners along creeks can legally remove deadfall -- dead trees and debris in the waterway and on the banks -- without a permit. However, tree roots, live trees and banks cannot be touched.
Also, heavy equipment cannot be used in the water without a permit. Those with deadfall near their property are being asked to contact county officials for help in removing it.
"Please be proactive instead of waiting for a dammed up riverbed," Kippen said.
Councilman Ned Mecham agreed, saying, "We have to get the junk out of the creek."
While county crews are ready to actively search out and remove deadfall, Miller said having local contractors on standby is a good idea.
He said this has been a controversial and emotional issue, especially for homeowners whose property is threatened by floodwaters.
"People have criticized us for not doing anything, but we have a lot more going on than people are aware of," said Terry Turner, Morgan's emergency manager.
Already, county officials have 5,000 filled sandbags on hand and 50,000 empty sandbags. Although some sand is stockpiled, more is being acquired.
"We would be foolish not to have thousands of sandbags ready," Miller said.
Turner said so far he has turned down most of the multiple daily requests from residents for sandbags.
"If everyone gets paranoid, 50,000 sandbags will go in a heartbeat," Turner said. "We are taking it on a case-by-case basis."
Although several local contractors have volunteered their time and use of heavy equipment, county officials are so far hesitant to use that help.
The council voted not to seek an emergency application for a stream-alteration permit of East Canyon Creek through Porterville.
The permit would have allowed county crews to pull live trees out of the creekbed, haul in gravel to secure banks and remove sandbars.
However, water experts were wary of such actions because of the damage it could do to water quality, aquatic life, other wildlife and the environment in general.
If the county had applied for and been granted the permit, it would be liable for damage done to private property in the event county crews accessed the river to alter the creekbed and banks.
Damages would be assessed after flooding subsided, but the county could be dealing with the repercussions and state departments for years to come, Kelley said, adding, "I believe there will be damages done and the county will be responsible for making it right."