Washington County rivers running high but able to handle extra water from storms

Mar 21, 2023, 6:48 PM | Updated: Apr 17, 2023, 4:18 pm

SANTA CLARA & BLOOMINGTON, Utah — The latest storm to hit southern Utah is bringing plenty of rain, but emergency managers said the Santa Clara and Virgin rivers are handling the extra water without a problem.

“The river looks really good,” Jason Whipple, emergency services director for Washington County, said while looking at the Santa Clara River. “It’s running pretty full, but it’s not near what we have seen in the last few days, in the last week.”

Whipple said there was more concern last week when warmer temperatures brought rain to the higher elevations.

“Last week, we had a lot of rain on snow — some of that mid-level snow — that really boosted up what was coming down out of the mountains and the lower hills,” he said.

The county has sandbags prepared and ready to respond to flooding events this spring. Whipple said crews are also monitoring the rivers to make sure there’s a good path for water to flow.

“Logs and debris wash down and plug up some slots,” he said. “So we try to keep those clear.”

Whipple said the Santa Clara is in good shape because of the improvements made after flooding in 2010.

St. George officials said they are watching this storm closely and have equipment and crews ready to respond to keep rivers flowing.

“We have the track hoes pull off any log jams and any debris coming down that’s too big to pass under the bridge,” said Cameron Cutler, the public works director for St. George. “We were doing that last week, but we don’t feel like we need it this week.”

Along the Virgin River, last week’s rain brought high river flows that covered the walking path alongside the river in Bloomington. Residents said improvements made after flooding in 2005 are keeping their homes safe.

“Back in 2005, the river was full of trees that had grown up, and so it really held a lot of debris,” said Bruce Jacobson.

Major flooding in a Bloomington backyard in 2005. Major flooding in a Bloomington backyard in 2005.

The flooding nearly two decades ago eroded away about 60 feet of his backyard, Jacobson said, and left behind a foot and a half of silt on his property.

“We ended up with water at this point on my lawn,” Jacobson said, standing near his home.

Even with the damage to his property, Jacobson remembers feeling fortunate compared to others who lost everything.

“Especially in Santa Clara where homes were dropping into the river,” Jacobson said. “It was not pleasant. It was a very stressful time — very stressful time.”

He said the rock wall that was put in place after the flood is doing its job by containing the river and controlling erosion.

“We’ve been praying for rain in St. George and we got it,” Jacobson said. “Now, we’re praying for a cool spring so that it comes out slowly and not heavy rains on the snow.”

Whipple said he expects some flooding once it really heats up this spring and the snowpack starts to melt.

“We’re going to see some flooding,” he said about when the warmer temperatures arrive. “I don’t think that can be avoided.”

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Washington County rivers running high but able to handle extra water from storms