Here’s how $33 million in emergency funds will be used to help Utah cities and towns respond to flooding

“We won’t be able to pay for everything, but certainly we can pay for some of that,” Gov. Spencer Cox said of state cash earmarked for reimbursing Utah municipalities responding to flooding emergencies.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sandbags are filled as waters rise in Emigration Canyon on Wednesday, April 12, 2023. State lawmakers have approved emergency funding so municipalities will be able to be reimbursed for some flood relief efforts this spring and summer, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox told reporters on Thursday, May 18, 2023.

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Utah municipalities will have access to money for flood relief efforts this spring and summer after Gov. Spencer Cox and lawmakers reallocated millions of dollars of the state’s coffers to emergency assistance.

“A lot of this will go directly to the cities and towns, and it’s to help reimburse them for some of their efforts to keep their citizens safe,” Cox said Thursday morning, the day after lawmakers voted to approve the funding during an emergency session.

“We won’t be able to pay for everything, but certainly we can pay for some of that,” he added.

Ahead of flooding, municipalities have asked the state for sandbags, Cox said, and that part of an initial $5 million the Legislature allocated for flood response went towards those requests. He also expects cities and towns will request heavy equipment to dredge canals and clear obstructions from waterways.

“There will be a possibility of having to tear out some coverts and bridges,” Cox explained, and that doing so prevents water from bottlenecking and flooding neighborhoods.

Two weeks ago, Cox announced that he’d call lawmakers into a special session, asking them to extend his April 18 emergency declaration and for the additional cash to combat the anticipated statewide flooding emergency.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Spencer Cox answers questions during his monthly news conference at the the Eccles Broadcast Center, on Thursday, May 18, 2023.

On Wednesday, they obliged.

Lawmakers set aside $33 million for Cox to use in responding to the negative impacts of Utah’s record snowfall. That snow, which is credited with extending the life of Great Salt Lake and extending Utah’s ski season, also has officials concerned that it could lead to disaster.

During the special session, Majority Leader Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, warned his colleagues that most of the snow, about two-thirds of Utah’s record snowfall, was still left in the mountains to melt.

After some debate on how long to extend the emergency declaration — some worried about giving Cox similarly autonomy he had during the coronavirus pandemic — the Legislature unanimously voted for an Aug. 15 sunset to the governor’s emergency powers.

When asked if the state is allocating enough money to stay above the water, the governor told reporters Thursday that central and northern Utah are at risk still, but he feels “pretty good about the funding that’s available.”

“There will be more money available on July 1 (the beginning of fiscal year 2024) that we can tap into without a special session if we need it,” Cox said, adding that emergency managers across the state have been part of the planning process.

While flooding is on Utahns’ minds as the snow melts and rushes into waterways, Utah’s yearslong drought has not gone away.

“In Utah, we are either in drought or preparing for the next drought,” Cox said, saying he’d borrowed the phrase from wise governors before him.

“And one year does not a 20-year drought solve,” he added.