State to tap rainy day funds for continued flood relief, Cox says

Apr 20, 2023, 4:00 PM | Updated: Apr 24, 2023, 10:23 am

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox asked the Legislature for $5 million in funds for flood mitigation last October. That allocation has already been depleted, but the state has plans to use emergency funds or possibly call a special legislative session to address flood relief this spring, the governor said.

Cox issued an emergency order Tuesday, allowing state agencies to use “rainy day funds” to address flooding and other natural disasters caused by the spring runoff, including avalanches and landslides.

“While I’m grateful for their support, we definitely recognize that we are going to need more,” Cox said of the budget approved by lawmakers. “This state of emergency will allow agencies to tap into the state’s literal rainy day funds to continue our flood response as well as ask for federal aid.”

The emergency order is in place for 30 days, but Cox said he had spoken with House and Senate leaders who are “aligned” in the event that the order needs to be extended by lawmakers. Runoff is expected to continue for a couple of months, depending on how quickly temperatures rise. Cox said he’s had initial conversations with legislators who say they’re willing to come into special session to address runoff if the need arises.

Even with the flood relief funds already depleted, Cox said there haven’t been any major hiccups in the state’s response, although he acknowledged that “the highest risk is still ahead of us.”

Will State Street flood again?

The question on everybody’s minds this spring has been whether this year’s record snowpack will result in a repeat of the infamous State Street river of 1983. Several factors would need to come together to see similar flooding, but Cox said city officials he’s spoken with are confident things won’t reach that level this year.

“What a lot of people forget about 1983 is, they forget 1982,” he said. “1982 set records for snowfall and water and filled all of our reservoirs to capacity, so there … was nowhere else to put the water. We have additional reservoir capacity now that we didn’t have then. And again, last year was one of the driest on record, as opposed to 1982, which leaves us in a very different situation.”

Water managers are able to release water in reservoirs on colder days this spring, to ensure reservoirs aren’t overwhelmed when temperatures rise.

Utah’s snowpack has only melted a few inches since it peaked at a record 30 inches on April 8, meaning there’s still a lot of runoff to be had. The statewide snowpack is now 26.9 inches of water, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which is still higher than the peak snowpack of 26 inches in 1983.

“The temperatures do look good over the next two weeks,” Cox said. “We need temperatures in the 60s and low 70s to really get that water moving. We are trying to avoid the 80s and 90s, although, of course, that is certainly out of our control. But the more water we can get down sooner, the better off we will all be.”

As concerned as many Utahns are about flooding, Cox stressed that floods aren’t the only hazards caused by runoff.

“I have deep concern about mudslides and landslides that we know are happening across the state,” he said. “So, if you’re driving in canyon areas where there are steep embankments, keep your eyes peeled.”

But Cox again praised the state’s response to natural disasters, saying things have mostly gone according to plan and that infrastructure has held up well.

“It’s actually been really impressive, considering we haven’t had to use the flood muscles for a while,” he said. “I’ve just been incredibly impressed with the coordination at the county level, the city level and the state level, getting those resources out. … We’ve seen some great work.”

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State to tap rainy day funds for continued flood relief, Cox says