Gov. Cox warns of further flooding, issues executive order for flood preparedness

Gov. Spencer Cox holds his monthly news conference at PBS Utah in Salt Lake City on Thursday. Cox warned of further flooding caused by spring runoff. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox issued an executive order Thursday authorizing paid leave for state employees to help with flood mitigation and relief as the state braces for further runoff.

During his monthly news conference, Cox said Utah's record snowpack for mid-March is good for drought relief and will benefit the Great Salt Lake, but will create more flooding in the immediate future. He said the Great Salt Lake is already up 2 feet from its November low, and is on pace to gain 5 feet by the end of the spring.

"We're about 10 feet below the lake's average, so to get 5 feet of that back, potentially, in one spring kind of exceeds our wildest dreams," he said. "However, there is a downside to our water year and that is flood risks. Flooding is the No. 1 disaster risk in Utah, historically, and whenever you get rain on top of snow like we've had these past couple of weeks, there's a very good chance of flooding. We've already seen some of that in Washington County."

Cox's executive order grants all employees of executive branch agencies up to eight hours of paid administrative leave to volunteer for flood mitigation in their county or an adjacent county.

"We want an army of residents ready and I know we will have volunteers joining them from across the state, as they are called upon to do so," he said. "I would just also like to add that we're calling on all Utahns to use common sense. We have not had spring runoff like this since 2011. ... It's very important to keep children away from fast-moving water. Please do not drive in flooded streets. The potential for drowning is real. Stay alert. Listen to the news and weather alerts when storms are headed your way, especially if you're in the outdoors."

"We've already seen flash floods this year, including this week's deadly tragedy in Buckskin Gulch, so we're asking everyone to please, please play it safe this spring," he continued.

Still focused on water, drought

Coming out of such a wet winter, Cox was asked if policymakers are "taking their eye off the ball" when it comes to drought and water use.

"This is certainly a narrative that I keep hearing and, yet, no one is saying that, at all," Cox said. "In fact, you're hearing just the opposite from state leaders, legislative leaders, my administration. What we're saying is this is a great opportunity for us."

He said the drought has helped change public opinion and spurred conservation efforts, and he doesn't expect that to change after just one good water year.

"I have yet to hear a single person in leadership say 'We're good, we don't have to do any more,'" he said. "What I'm hearing is, 'We're not good, but we're on a path to be better.' And we have to be prepared for winters like this so that we can keep that water, make it stretch longer."

Conservation remains important, he said, because drought will likely persist in the future, and we can't expect similarly wet years every year going forward.

"Living in Utah is all about preparing ourselves for the next drought, because it's going to come. I desperately hope we get a couple of years like this in a row, but I'm not expecting that to be the case," Cox said. "We're going to keep preparing as if drought is normal because drought has always been normal in our state. It's just been worse over the past decade.

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Bridger Beal-Cvetko covers Utah politics, Salt Lake County communities and breaking news for He is a graduate of Utah Valley University.


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