Moab hit by 2 50-year-floods in a week

Community Development Director Michael Black gave an overview, acknowledging they’re still figuring out how bad it was.

After two intense flash floods that are estimated to be in the 50-year-flood range hit Moab and surrounding areas within a week in the latter part of June, the city is assessing the damage, coordinating recovery efforts and planning future mitigation efforts.

A 50-year-flood is defined as a flood that has about a 2% chance of happening within any given year.

The damages

“I’m aware of basements and crawl spaces flooding, I’m even aware of some garages where water flowed through,” said Michael Black, community development director for Moab. “There were a couple of homes [between 100 West and 500 West] where the entire house was surrounded 360 degrees by flood water, but I’m not aware of any damage to the homes themselves.”

He added everyone who he and other city employees have heard from have said their houses are still livable.

“We didn’t receive a lot of sustained damage to our infrastructure,” Black said. “We did get a lot of sediment throughout town that was deposited from floodwaters our bridges, we had some minor damage to [pedestrian] bridges.”

He added that a few bridges abutments, the foundation of bridges, were damaged by water breaking down the soil underneath them, but no vehicle bridges were seriously damaged.

(Doug McMurdo | The Time-Independent) Significant amounts of flood debris litters the bridge on 300 South following a storm June 21.

The primary flood event occurred on June 21 with over in an inch of rain pouring in 15 minutes in some areas of Moab. It significantly affected Mill Creek, causing it to rise above the banks at several points.

Though the storm was estimated to be in the 50-year-flood range, Black thinks the impact of the 100-year-flood that happened in 2022 may have caused the flood waters to go farther into the 100-year-flood plain at times.

“We had a lot of sediment that was still on the ground two years ago,” Black said. “We’re still catching up with recovery on that and trying to catch up with mitigation efforts as well – you got to do recovery first then you can start implementing mitigation.”

Black said the main area of impact was between 100 West and the Colorado River.

The second storm dropped around half an inch of rain in just 10 to 15 minutes, focusing on the north end of town. Unlike the first storm, Black said this one didn’t cause creeks to rise but led to severe surface flooding.

The rain fell on impermeable surfaces like rooftops and parking lots, overwhelming the storm drainage system and resulting in water levels up to three feet deep in some areas, which mostly drained within an hour.

Response and recovery efforts

Immediate recovery efforts included clearing sediment and ensuring the stream channel remained within its banks. One challenge has been the aftermath of the 2022 flood with so much leftover sediment.

“We’ve worked on the stream channel to ensure minor events don’t cause it to jump the bank,” Black said.

He added they’ve also put effort into removing sediment off the roads in the last couple weeks.

Ongoing projects from 2022 include placing riprap at bridges, something that was about to start but has had to be delayed due to the recent floods.

(Doug McMurdo | The Times-Independent) A Moab city employee sweeps sediment from two recent floods on 400 East.

Coordination and assistance

One action the Moab City Council has taken is waiving permit fees for private construction that needs to be done to recover from this flood.

“Anybody who’s experiencing those issues with their homes or businesses or anything like that,” Black said.

“We don’t want to cause more financial burden on residents,” Black said. “We encourage them to get permits, which are now free, to ensure safety standards are met.”

Additionally, a property damage assessment form has been made available for residents to report flood damage, helping the city and county understand the full scope of the impact and direct resources appropriately.

There are individual forms for the June 21 flood at arcg.is/1rvyrm2, and the June 27 flood at arcg.is/9KfGX.

Black said they’re also working closely with engineering development and building inspectors to assess the full impact, as well as looking for funding sources including insurance claims and grants to aid recovery and mitigation efforts.

Future Preparedness

Looking ahead to the next flood, Black stressed the importance of continuous preparedness.

“The lesson learned from these floods is that the next flood can happen at any time,” Black said.

People can also sign up for alerts about potential flash flooding and other storms on the My Alerts app or going to GrandCountyAlerts.org, advised Grand County Emergency Management Director Cora Phillips. On the app, you can set specific locations to receive alerts for.

Phillips also suggested people be really cautious about where they’re recreating and be aware that weather conditions can change very rapidly. Monsoon season in Moab is typically from July to September, so Phillips cautioned against the small, isolated storms that can dump a lot of rain in a quick period of time.

For the future, Black said there is some infrastructure that needs to be upgraded, as well as implementing more riprap around bridge abutments to withstand future floods better.

Black encouraged residents to report any issues with storm drains and culverts to the Public Works Department.

“They’re constantly working to maintain the system, but we rely on the community to let us know if they notice any problems,” said Black, noting that staff and equipment is limited, but they’re doing the best they can.

Black added that they have an emergency contract with an equipment company in place to clear the Mill Creek pathway.

While the recent floods have presented significant challenges, Black said Moab’s community and city officials are working tirelessly to recover and prepare for the future.

“It’s pretty clear Mother Nature is going to do what she wants to do,” Black said. " …

But we are doing our best to stay prepared and ensure the safety of our community, but keep in mind we’ve got the entire town and county to worry about.”

(Moab City Public Works) Damages from the June 21st flood when over in an inch of rain pouring in 15 minutes in some areas of Moab.

This story was first published by The Times-Independent.