Floods destroyed the only diversion dam and irrigation system serving rural farmers in Hanksville earlier this month, and now residents wonder if their town will ever be the same again.
"This town has withstood a lot over the years, but they lost their main artery when the rock diversion dam was destroyed," said Paul Pace, Wayne County agent for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency. The floods also wreaked havoc in nearby Cainsville, destroying 1,074 acres of prime farmland, he said.
Pace and Ron Davidson, Utah resource conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Salt Lake City, toured the devastation on Thursday.
Two days of nonstop, drizzling rain inundated the small town of Hanksville in early October, which led to rising levels in the Fremont River. The waterway eventually breached its banks on Oct. 6, washing away the 100-year-old diversion dam and the irrigation system it feeds.
Pace compiled a list of the damage that includes lost fences, culinary lines, sewer lines, canals, pastureland and the dam. The estimated repair cost could be as much as $8 million, and that doesn't include damage to the county roads or U-24, Pace said.
The Hanksville Town Council issued an emergency declaration on Oct. 7, which was followed by a similar declaration by the Wayne County commissioners, said Vicky Bower, director of emergency services for the county. A damage assessment team from the Federal Emergency Management Agency toured the area on Wednesday, she added.
"It was clear the town had been severely impacted," she said. "It's a huge loss to residents, because there's no way for them to get the water back up to irrigate their fields, unless they replace the dam," she said.
Davidson said there is hope that the irrigation system can be rebuilt.
"The impact of what water can do is just staggering," he said, following several hours of touring the ground with Pace and other specialists. "Our commitment is to help these people, and while we're still a long ways away from a definitive answer, I think the possibility of having the system come back on line is pretty good."
Pace, who owns a working farm in Hanksville, said the dam is essential for the area's economy.
"The diversion dam is the multiplier that keeps things going here," he said. "Most people don't even realize it, but we need to keep it going."
Larry Lewis, spokesman for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, said Leonard Blackham, Utah Commissioner of Agriculture and Food, believes that if officials are going to spend money to rebuild, they should spend more and build a dam that can hold water for year-round use, rather than one that just diverts water from a running river for irrigation.
Several motels in the area also sustained damage in the floods, and a school busload of children was forced to spend the night in a motel during the height of the floods, Bower said.
"The last crop of alfalfa is gone, and some of the farmers have silt and mud covering their land," she said. "The extent of the flood damage is amazing."
Davidson said the recovery process is just beginning."There's still a long ways to go, but the potential is there," he said. "We can protect the riverbanks, and hopefully we'll get the state and federal entities working together soon on it."