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To Dredge or Not to Dredge

Article Date: 
5 May, 2011 (All day)

 

A lively discussion was held at council meeting surrounding proposed actions to mitigate flooding.  After a meeting with County Emergency Manager, Terry Turner, and Weber Basin Water a number of individuals including county council members Kilmer and Kippen and Council Chairman Kelley met with state officials and representatives of the Army Corp. of Engineers to determine next steps.

“Dredge is maybe too drastic a word.  The corp. of engineers didn’t like the word dredge” reported Turner.  The proposal being considered, however, included removing material from specific areas of East Canyon Creek.  The areas which were discussed as candidates for the removal of material were sections of the creek that had sand bars or were areas with low banks where the river spreads out at flood stages.  

Chairman Kelley summarized the issue.  She said, “The council is being asked to sign as an applicant to get a stream alteration permit to go for a seven and a half mile stretch along East Canyon Creek from Porterville to a certain point.”  A stream alteration permit is required by the Army Corp. of Engineers for the county to do any work on the stream bed or banks other than removing deadfalls and obstructions. Work performed under the permit would be paid for by the county.  The county would also be responsible for any damages done and would be required to mitigate any damages caused by actions in the creek while working under the permit.  

Member Lyle Nelson expressed concern about a section of the application.  He said, “The thing that I see here with the permit request is the paragraph where it talks about mitigation. ‘You must avoid and minimize discharges of dredged or filled materials in the waters of the United States to the maximum extent possible… Compensation for unavoidable adverse project impacts may be required as a condition of authorization of this office’  This is very legalistic.  Another thing that it talks about is the equipment…it gets right into a whole bunch of things we have to be aware of before we go ahead and authorize.”

Councilmembers Ned Mecham and Robert Kilmer responded that the plan was not to have any machinery in the creek and that the material placed on the sides of the creek would be from the creek bottom.  Chairman Kelley added, “However, they did have a concern with taking material from the bottom of the creek and putting it on the banks.  They said that is how the problem originated.” Kelley further added that building the banks higher creates a larger problem in the long run.  If the banks continue to be built up higher than the surrounding ground it will make flooding problems worse in the future.

Mark Miller, the county engineer added his viewpoint.  He said, “In my first conversations with Weber Basin it was obvious from speaking with them that they do expect some flooding to take place.  They expect to be spilling over the East Canyon within a few weeks… The fact that we had ten people show up from state and federal agencies to our meeting on Thursday is further evidence that we’ve got some flooding that is likely to take place in this area…Frankly it was very educational to me to have ten people from the different agencies.”  Miller reported that he felt  substantial concern was expressed from those who participated over the plan for dredging.  He related a conversation between Darren Rasmussen who has responsibility for stream alteration permits with the state of Utah.  He said, “Darren expressed personally to me during that meeting that he did not feel that the dredging operation was, first of all, going to alleviate the flood problems that we were facing, but he felt that it was also going to exacerbate future problems.”

He also added that the problem with creating higher berms on the sides of the river is that eventually the bottom of the river builds up silt and that the river then continues to be higher relative to the surrounding areas.  Miller was not supportive of the dredging plan because he felt that it would cause more damage in the long run.

Turner reported on preventative measures the county is planning to take that do not require a stream alteration permit.  Sandbagging and some building some berms is planned to help to avoid flooding in the areas where most of the homes are at risk.  

Member Kilmer expressed the view that the county should take measures to keep as much water as possible in the creek by targeted dredging and creating berms from material dredged from the creek.  He said, “We have houses in the way, whether they should have been put there or not is beside the point, the fact is they are there.  They [the group from the state and the Army Corp. of Engineers] indicated that over the years farmers have come in, built it up, whatever has happened in past years the banks have been built up the silt has deposited.  The river is raising… they acknowledged the fact that we don’t have many options…I want to address the council.  When you are looking at an emergency you are looking at any kind of a major situation.  I think you have the responsibility to take every single possible tool that you have to avert that emergency and put it in your little tool box so that depending on what you find and what you run up against you can address those emergencies.  If you just assume that something bad is going to happen if you try to prevent this emergency and you do nothing or you don’t take the necessary steps you could find yourself in a bad situation with no way to do it.”  Kilmer suggested that the county apply for the permit and put the decisions on how to implement the flood control in the hands of the county engineer and the emergency manager.  The emergency permit would, however, only allow the county to take action during `a short window after it is issued.

In the end the council determined not to apply for the permit to dredge the creek.  The vote was four to two against applying for the permit with members Kilmer and Mecham supporting the application and Chairman Kelley, and Members Kippen, Hansen, and Nelson opposed.  The council voted to instruct Turner to proceed with providing appropriate sand bags and the creation of berms that could be done without the stream alteration permit.  They also directed that homeowners be made aware of their ability to take out deadfalls from the river.