Washington County passes emergency declaration ahead of potential flooding

ST. GEORGE — In the shadow of the governor declaring a state of emergency Tuesday for current and future flooding events across Utah as the state’s record-level snowpack melts, the Washington County Commission passed a county-level declaration as a precautionary measure.

Jason Bradley, Washington County emergency operations manager, speaks to the County Commission about declaring a local state of emergency to open up resources for flood mitigation efforts, St. George, Utah, April 18, 2023 | Photo courtesy of Washington County / CEC, St. George News

“This declaration (of emergency) is something we do routinely in times of crisis or potential crisis, and that’s what is before us today,” Jason Bradley, Washington County emergency operations manager, told the commission Tuesday afternoon.

The emergency declaration opens access to state and federal-level funds and aid for flood response and mitigation efforts.

Concerns about flooding stem from the high snowpack in the mountains that is gradually melting as temperatures increase. If the runoff continues to come down at a gradual pace, local emergency managers have said the potential for flooding will be minimal. That could change if temperatures jump or a warm rain sweeps through the region.

The county experienced some flooding in mid-March as the snowpack began to melt and has left rivers and streams running high since.

“It’s kind of a strategic chess move on our part,” Bradley said. “If there is a significant expense from flooding, this is a step to get money and assistance.”

While Washington County hasn’t experienced major flooding or landslide events related to melting snowpack as parts of northern Utah have, the emergency declaration will help expedite calls for aid and the purchase of emergency supplies.

In this file photo, a drone photograph of flood damage at Southgate Golf Club, St. George, Utah, March 16, 2023 | Photo provided by Colby Cowan, St. George News

“There could be a potential disaster,” Commissioner Victor Iverson said. “Luckily, I think Mother Nature is cooperating with us in bringing that snow off (slowly).”

Jason Whipple, director of Washington County Emergency Services, recently told St. George News that the county was prepared to respond to potential flooding. Thus far, in an effort to cut down on response time, heavy equipment and flood-mitigation supplies have been staged across the county where major flooding is expected to occur. The county has also secured over 100,000 sandbags from the state.

On the state level, Utah lawmakers put $5 million toward flood-related emergency management during the recently completed session. Those funds have already run dry.

However, with Gov. Spencer Cox’s state of emergency declaration, the State Disaster Recovery Restricted Account has become accessible for use.

“We want to have everything in order,” Commission Chair Adam Snow said. “This is just one step in our ability to address (flooding) if it happens.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.

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