After four years of drought, this spring's series of gully washers have been a welcome relief in the Salt Lake Valley.

The problem is the valley doesn't have nearly as many gullies as it used to have, and those that are left are rapidly disappearing under subdivisions.West Jordan City Manager Terry Holzworth, who in 1983-84 led the fight against the worst flooding the valley has ever experienced, worries that flood control efforts are not keeping pace with the spreading urbanization.

He also fears that the four-year dry spell and the successes of 1983-84 have caused an unwise complacency among local officials and the public. "Unless we stay ahead of it and fully fund the critical flood-control projects, we're eventually going to have some serious problems."

Holzworth served as a Salt Lake County Water Conservancy District engineer during the mild drought of the late 1970s, county flood control director during the floods of 1983-84, and county public works director during the drought of the late 1980s. He is now city manager of one of the fastest growing cities in the country, and has cultivated a wealth of experience in the effects of the weather cycle on the urban scene.

According to Holzworth, the nature of the problem has changed since 1983-84, with steady rains or cloudbursts posing more of a threat than snowmelt. Even this year's relatively normal spring rains have at times overwhelmed storm drain systems and caused localized street flooding.

It could get much worse, and preparing for the worst could cost $100 million, Holzworth said.

Much of the burden is falling on the county's growing communities - like West Jordan - where new subdivisions are rapidly covering up the open land that once absorbed spring rains.

For example, developers are increasingly being asked to install oversize storm drains in new subdivisions - 48-inch pipe instead of 24-inch, for example - in order to have a larger system in place for projected growth. The difference in the cost is picked up by taxpayers.

However, the storm drain system beyond the subdivisions is woefully inadequate in most valley locations, Holzworth said. West Jordan and other southwest county communities, for example, dump their storm runoff into irrigation canals, to the chagrin of the canal companies.

The canals channel West Jordan's runoff along a convoluted route to a storm drain on 5400 South in Bennion. Holzworth says the valley would do better with a 48-inch storm drain on 7200 South.

"We're getting beyond the point where the ditches can handle the water," he said. "Trunk lines are the weak link in the system, and as the valley grows, something will have to be done about it."

The bulk of past flood control expenditures went into improving creek channels and the Jordan River as flood control receptacles. Little money was available for drains to get the water to those receptacles, Holzworth explained.

"Now it's time to pay the piper," he said, pointing to Salt Lake City's proposed "rain tax" for storm drains.

West Jordan had a storm drain fee several years ago but chose to replace it with money from the general fund, Holzworth noted.

Southwest county communities have the advantage of being able to install new storm drains in undeveloped areas, which is cheaper than having to tear up roads and retrofit existing systems.

Holzworth said severe summer cloudbursts the likes of which the valley hasn't seen in recent years are likely to make a reappearance. When they do, he warned, the weak links will break.