In late January and into February, Box Elder and Cache County experienced flooding that caused $6.7 million in infrastructure damages which does not include damage to private homes.
Unprecedented precipitation and warm temperatures resulted in frozen water trapped in the middle of fields which broke loose. Lewiston Resident Clay Christensen said flooding occurred as if someone flipped a switch.
“I better grab a shovel and a pitchfork and help," he said. "All I did for hours was stand there and clean away the drain, and the ice, and debris away from the drains, while we had several big pumps going, pumping the water over the street.”
Such extensive damages over such a short period of time resulted in local governments and Governor Gary Herbert, to declare a state of emergency. In addition to infrastructure damages, Emergency Manager Mark Millett reported 4 landslides near the Bear River.
“The volume of the water exceeded the capacity of the infrastructure," he said. "That’s what took us into disaster mode, when the scope of the situation exceeds the capabilities of the infrastructure. That’s a disaster, that’s where emergencies are defined at.”
As Lewiston dairy farmer John Dent says, landowners and water districts need to do a better job of draining water out of the valley.
“One thing we could do is to be able to pump more water into the mainlines, back to the canals, either putting in more pipe or someway to get more water through the existing drains, and then where it exits into the rivers we need to do a better job of getting the water away from the hillsides,” he said.
At least 120 homes have been damaged by aerial flooding, which does not account for homes with flooded basements. As long as precipitation continues through May, homeowners are bracing for more floods. Emergency officials have recommended obtaining flood preparedness kits and holding off on repairs until June.
“That’s kind of what our recommendations are with folks, is we’re just going to have stand by, whether it's folks that have just had leaking into their basements or surface flooding, lets hold off - give things a change to dry out so you don’t get things repaired only to have problems again,” Merritt said.
The state has provided some relief funds to local governments, but until a federal emergency has been declared, federal funds are not available. Merritt recommends the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster or VOAD, which is consortium of non-profits that can provide immediate assistance and help restoring homes for those affected by flooding.