On Sept. 10, a special meeting was held to discuss the financial needs of the county with regards to the consequences of the devastating fires and floods this summer.
With the help of Pam Juliano from Congressman Jim Matheson's office, Commissioners James Nelson and Laurie Pitchforth organized a meeting of federal, state, and county agencies to determine if there is money available to the county for the removal of the log jams in Huntington Canyon, debris from the Huntington River, replace bridges, protect Huntington City's culinary water line from further damage, repair washed out roads, repair irrigation systems and shore up the river banks.
Juliano initiated a conference phone call that not only included those in the room, but additional concerned federal agencies. On the phone were Mike Daley of Emergency Repair of Federally Owned roads, Allen Rowley Manti LaSal National Forest, Randy Welch of FEMA with Matt Buddy a flood insurance specialist and Bobby Sandborn who runs the FEMA Fire Management Program. Juliano then introduced those in the room by saying we have representatives from NRCS, The State Office of Emergency Management, The Governors Office, The Emery County Sheriffs Office, County Commissioners, State Senator David Hinkins, Irrigation Companies, Mayor of Huntington, Engineering Firms, Rocky Mountain Power, the Emery Water Conservancy District and the Cattleman's Association.
The meeting was held to determine what resources were available, to set priorities and the next steps to get funding for the cleanup.
Juliano asked do we need to declare or request a disaster designation or are there programs available that do not require that designation? We look to our federal and state partners to help us fill in the blanks.
Starting with the impact on irrigation systems, Bret Leamaster the Huntington River Commissioner was first to report on the Huntington Cleveland Irrigation Company System. "Seventy million dollars has been invested in the system and as a result of the floods and heavy mudflows damage has occurred to our settling basins. We are unsure of the extent of damage to our pipe. We have a disaster in our new pressurized irrigation system.
"The same debris washing down off the mountains, the trees growing in the river are affecting Huntington City bridges and water users that are not in the HCIC irrigation system," said Leamaster.
Ted Curtis VP Huntington Cleveland Irrigation said debris in the river is plugging up our three major diversions in the river. There are a lot of log jams in the river. There is one log jam that is about 900 feet long and is causing the river to go around and is eroding private property.
Cody Allred representing Rocky Mountain Power stated we have a power plant located in this drainage. The power plant takes water out of the river in the same area as the Irrigation Company. Because of the flash floods over the burn area, sediment in the river water has caused the power plant to not be able to take water in on several occasions. "As of today we have not lost power generation or needed to take the plant off line due to the floods. So far we have been able to live with our on site water supplies. We have been forced to bring some poor quality water into the plant that normally we would not even consider. The alternative would be to shut down the plant. The power from the Huntington Power Plant serves six other states. We know the sediment getting into the entire system is causing an unknown amount of damage to the power plant," said Allred.
Juliano reported on what she had observed on a trip up Huntington Canyon, such as large culverts being moved more than a mile down river, bridges that were over Huntington River are now sitting over debris and mud, logs estimated to be four and six feet in circumference that were blocking the road and causing the river to cross the road and continue in areas where the river had never gone. "If we do not improve this soon there will be an impact on culinary water for the residents of Huntington. Access to Huntington Lake is a significant factor for the Huntington Power Plant. That access has been cut off. It is difficult to monitor what is going on inside the Irrigation piping system. The Irrigation Companies are participating in the Salinity Project, which is an agreement to reduce the amount of salt in water that goes down to Mexico. At this time those systems are not functioning. We cannot get water through the irrigation pipes," said Juliano.
Maughan Guymon said he has an initial water right on the Avery Ditch and is a stockholder in the Huntington Cleveland Irrigation Company. "We use the Avery Ditch for our irrigation of more than 500 acres. The floods are eroding away the Avery Ditch. The flood has also cut a new river channel because of the river being blocked by debris," said Guymon.
Kent Kofford from the Bureau of Reclamation reported their operation maintenance partners are HCIC and the Emery Water Conservancy District. "Our main concern is the problem with the diversion. The main diversion puts water into the North Ditch, which feeds the Huntington North Reservoir and is part of the Emery County Project. Our concern is with storage and delivering good water, also recreation, fish and wildlife at Huntington North. We have ways of capturing silt by using sedimentation basins. We are going to work with our partners to get those basins cleaned out by dredging. We are going to be watching water quality. We do not want to bring non-quality water into the Huntington North Reservoir. To prevent non-quality water entering the reservoir we may have to clean out the sediment basins every month," said Kofford.
Bronson Smart NRCS, State Conservation Engineer and our Emergency Watershed Manager reported "We have received several requests through our local Castle Dale office for assistance. NRCS does have an Emergency Program. This program requires a local sponsor. Such as a local head of government that covers the area of disaster. There are funds available through that program of 75 percent federal money and 25 percent local for some of these identified problems. This damage is normal coming from a forest fire and will continue for the next three to five years. Small rain events such as .2 of an inch of rain will continue to cause debris flows," said Smart.
Brad Bartholomew the State Highway Mitigation Officer and Public Assistance Officer said, "To declare a presidential disaster you have to meet several thresholds. One threshold is a statewide threshold. For Utah we are around 3.6 million and we would need that much public infrastructure damage to receive a federally declared disaster and bring in federal help to the county, the cities and some help to the irrigation company. FEMA only covers water that is used for power, fire suppression or culinary. Each of these areas can be allocated a percentage. If 50 percent of the water goes to power then FEMA could cover 50 percent of that damage.
"The state is looking at purchasing three to five weather gauges to be placed in locations throughout the state. These weather gauges would assist in providing an early warning about potential flash flooding." said Bartholomew.
Bartholomew also recommended those living along the river should purchase flood insurance because of the threat of floods over the next few years.
Nathan Lee director at UDOT asked could the state highway cost of repair be put into the pool of costs of the county. Bartholomew replied it depends upon whether or not the road is a federal road or not.
Mike Daley of ERFO said damaged roads on federal land can be eligible for repair funds if they are found to qualify. "We need to receive from the Forest Service and from Western Power as to how the damage to these roads is having an impact on them," said Daley.
Hilary Gordon Mayor of Huntington City said "My concern is the flooding that is taking place in the city and the culinary water. The fact we may lose that culinary water line if logs floating down the river should cut that water line. The city received a letter from UDOT requesting that the city clean out the brush and trees under and around the bridges. We are willing to do our part but we do not have the funding to do all of it. The irrigation, the farmers, and the city we all need to work together. There is no point in cleaning up one spot or area if we do not clean out the whole system."
Branson Smart mentioned there are ways the NRCS can help with some of the concerns of Huntington City.
Matt Buddy with FEMA said, "One other thing that is appropriate to this conversation is the flood insurance conversation. The city should right now be promoting flood insurance. Especially when we expect over the next three-five years having floods, debris flows and mud flows. Unfortunately the insurance will not cover irrigation systems and settling ponds."
Daley informed the group about the importance of documenting the costs that are expended while the event is going on and use a lot of photos to document the damage. Without that documentation in place there will not be funding reimbursement. Document all that you are doing before and after with plenty of photos.
Nathan Lee with UDOT said about State Road 31. "The main issues we have had are people trying to get to work every day at the power plant, the mine, land owners and recreational people. The first flood event took a total of 10 days to get the highway access opened. The second flood event took six days to get it reopened. The expended costs right now are a little over a million dollars. There has been $450,000 damage to structures. We are repairing wing walls, washed out floors, some of the bridges and the footings that are undermined. We have contractors working on State Road 31 now. We have had two other contractors hired at a cost of $213,000. UDOT has been working 16 days with equipment and manpower for about $350,000. Those expenditures allowed us to open the road Saturday. Every event affects the road significantly. There is probably three times that amount of money that needs to be spent to armor river banks, fix the roadsides and all of the other components. The Forest Service is building sediment basins to slow the flooding and that will help control the debris some. UDOT is concerned about the debris, do we shove it into the river or haul it away, also there is possible increased avalanche danger this winter." He said the next step is to get a a project sponsor because NRCS has $150,000 that has to be obligated by this Friday.
The sponsor of the project must get the land rights, permits for construction projects and is reimbursable by NRCS. Bronson said for the $150,000 you need to decide what is most important. NRCS requires easements from private property owners before removing debris from the river. Environmental Compliance, the necessary permits, engineering recommendations by an engineering firm, construction inspection, weekly site inspection and a photo log or photo diary.
The priorities are protecting the Huntington City water line, the irrigation pipes, remove the debris from the river and clear the log jams.
Commissioner Nelson and Commissioner Pitchforth agreed the County Commission would become the sponsor of the request for the NRCS funds through the Emery County Sheriffs Office of Emergency Management. Janalee Luke ECSO agreed to fill out the necessary NRCS paper work with the help of Bronson Smart. The Emery County Sheriffs Office of Emergency Management will administer the funds.