In early December 2022, Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson released their budget recommendations for the coming fiscal year. In it, they included $5 million for flood mitigation, even though Utah was still in a once-in-a-thousand-year drought. Was it optimism? Foresight? Inspiration? Clairvoyance?
When Cox delivered his State of the State address on Jan. 19, he said the following: “A few months ago, before the first big storm, I asked my team to include $5 million in my budget proposal for flood mitigation. I didn’t want to be the person to show up for a prayer meeting without my umbrella. It’s too soon to know, but I sincerely hope we need that money.”
Fast forward four months and here we are with record-breaking snowpack. Alta Ski Resort, for example, hit a mind-boggling 900 inches of snow this winter — that is 75 feet of snow! Up and down the Wasatch Front, around 90% of the snowpack still remains. So far, the spring temperatures have been cooler than normal, delaying the snow melt, but now we face a weekend forecast with temperature jumps heading up 15 to 25 degrees above normal.
In the months between the State of the State address and this weekend, the Cox-Henderson administration and state agencies have not been idle. By mid-April, the $5 million for flood mitigation funds was depleted. Cox issued an emergency order allowing state agencies to use rainy day funds for flooding, avalanches, landslides and other natural disasters tied to runoff. Preparations continue, even as flooding has already occurred. There are now flood watch cameras on rivers and streams, Sugar House Park is being used as a retention pond and sandbags have been filled by the millions.
Friday afternoon, the governor tweeted information and reminders about potential flooding. “Stay up-to-date on flood warnings, clear debris from gutters and drains, keep important documents in a waterproof container, make an emergency kit and please — don’t go near flooded rivers and streams!” (In other words, please don’t try out your surfing techniques in Utah waterways this weekend, even if it is a TikTok trend.)
Utah’s reaching higher temperatures this weekend, which means more snowmelt and potential flooding could occur.— Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox (@GovCox) April 28, 2023
Learn how you can be prepared at https://t.co/6lS4uK20wx and stay tuned to your local news and officials on how you can help your community combat the effects of… pic.twitter.com/dPtlrEiRYF
Henderson has cautioned that we are due to see accelerated snowmelt. Streams, creeks and rivers will run high, fast and cold, and there is a high chance of localized flooding.
Imagine if Utah had waited to prepare for flooding until this week.