As 2013 budget preparations loom, Salt Lake County flood control officials are pushing for an extra $3.4 million to keep up with the relentless task of preventing costly flooding along valley streams and storm drains.
Flood Control Director Scott Baird said $82 million worth of backlogged projects have been identified along the 310 miles of creeks, 177 miles of canals and 78 miles of piped water systems that flow through the valley.
To chip away at that pending project list, he asked the County Council on Tuesday to consider increasing the budget for flood control projects from $1.3 million to $3 million.
In addition, Baird said he would like to add five more employees to the existing 10-person staff (a $413,000 expense), spend $530,000 on a dump truck and a track hoe and cover another $781,000 in technical costs.
Like Salt Lake County's general fund, the flood control fund's annual infusion of revenue from a dedicated property tax has been hurt by the fact the county has kept its property tax rate stable for the past decade, Baird said, eating away at purchasing power.
He noted that his department's project budget in the late 1980s, after the severe flood years of the mid-1980s, was $5 million a year compared to the current $1.3 million.
While flooding is sporadic, keeping the control system unplugged is never-ending. "People think these river channels stay clean on their own," Baird said, showing a slide of fallen branches clogging the Jordan River. "Our crews keep these channels clean. These 10 guys have more work than they can do."
Along with the river, the county crews also manage four reservoirs and 27 detention basins, operate 44 overflow structures where streams and canals interact, keep 88 debris grates unplugged, check 33 streamflow monitoring stations and 100 water-quality sampling sites.
The county also needs to dredge the Jordan River Surplus Canal, which branches off of the main river near 2100 South and is the largest carrier of water from the valley into the Great Salt Lake.
That stretch of the system has been declared deficient by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency because of sediment buildup. Choking off the runoff could produce flooding along every tributary to the Jordan.
"My guys say when you put a [backhoe] bucket down into the water they hit bottom two feet down," Baird said.
County Council members listened sympathetically but said nothing about extra funding being supplied in the budget process that will consume the year's last two months.
Councilman Randy Horiuchi, who remembers well the floods of the mid-1980s, did predict "there's going to be another time" when overflowing streams will be a major headache in Salt Lake County.