Box Elder County flood damage estimates rising, officials bracing for more
Foot-deep water surrounds Jon Rhodes' home near Garland on Monday, Feb. 20.
Neighbors and others in one neighborhood created this culvert to divert meltwater from homes to Garland's stormwater system. Warm temperatures and melting of the heavy accumulation of snow in Garland has caused flooding in many homes in the city and elsewhere in Box Elder County.
GARLAND — As it now stands, flooding has caused $3.2 million worth of damage in Box Elder County.
And that’s just the running tally of the damaged, or in some cases completely washed-out, roads.
The county’s emergency management division and the American Red Cross say they’re still assessing damage — to homes, buildings and other infrastructure — but they’re expecting the final number to be big.
“This is definitely a unique situation — I haven’t seen anything like this since 1983.” said Box Elder Emergency Manager Mark Millett, referencing the flood and mud damage caused by record snowmelt that occurred that year along the Wasatch Front.
On Wednesday, Millett said organized volunteer operations had been suspended, but would likely resume Friday. Officials are bracing for more flooding as temperatures are expected to reach almost 50 degrees this weekend, causing older snowpack to melt.
Millett said more than 30,000 sandbags have been distributed, and there are about 20,000 more ready for use if flooding occurs again.
Water managers of the Bear River have been monitoring spring runoff and say the potential for flooding is high all along the river, everywhere below Bear Lake.
“Based on runoff forecasts, we believe there will be localized flooding of the Bear River into its historic flood plain,” Connely Baldwin, a hydrologist with Rocky Mountain Power, said in a press release.
RMP manages the Bear River hydro system, providing irrigation water for about 150,000 acres of farmland. Baldwin said several variables could influence the severity of flooding, but people with property near the river should prepare for the worst.
“These conditions could rival, or perhaps exceed, those of 1983-84 or 2011 because current snowpack levels exceed those high-flow years,” he said.
As the collective county crosses its fingers, the Bear River Health Department is offering free bacteria testing to residents who use private water systems.
Jill Parker, public relations director with the department, said health officials are concerned about cross-contamination, or surface water getting into wells. Parker said residents with a private well or spring that has experienced flooding should have their water tested.
Parker said samples are best collected from a bathtub faucet, using cold water. Water should run for 30 seconds to 2 minutes to ensure it’s coming from the primary source, the health department says.
Samples must be returned to the department within 24 hours of collecting them. The samples are being received at any of the health department’s locations, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday. For more information, call 435-792-6570 or visit brhd.org.
Those who haven’t experienced flooding or who use public water systems don’t need testing. The free testing will be offered until flooding conditions subside, Parker said.
“It’s such a dynamic, evolving situation, so it’s hard to say exactly how long (we’ll do testing),” she said. “We’ll do it until it’s no longer needed.”
Last week during a tour of the area, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said Gov. Gary Herbert was looking to procure federal aid for the area. Joe Dougherty, public information officer with Utah Division of Emergency Management, said damage assessments, still in process, will need to be completed before a grant is requested.
Millett said he’s optimistic the area will receive federal funding.
For the area to receive the funding, he said, it has to meet a $3.9 million damage threshold. In addition to Box Elder’s present $3.2 million damage, Millet said, Cache County damage is over $2 million and counting.
Emergency officials are working on Preliminary Damage Assessment Reports reports, Millet said, which must be submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency before funds are dispersed.
“We anticipate we’ll be well over that $3.9 million when everything is documented,” Millett said.
Scott Vest, with the American Red Cross, said his office has already taken on 150 client claims from individuals who sustained some property damage. Vest said the agency is still working on dollar figures for damage estimates.
The Red Cross anticipates it could be working in Box Elder County until April, or possibly even May, Vest said.
“People are kind of wanting their houses taken care of right away, but it doesn’t make sense to go in and fix somebody’s basement if it’s going to flood again in two weeks,” he said. “We’re going to be at this for a while.”
Vest said the agency is in need of volunteers. To volunteer, go to www.redcross.org/local/utah.
You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23 or like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mitchshaw.standardexaminer/.