PANGUITCH — State and local officials say ongoing mitigation efforts addressing issues with the Panguitch Lake dam appear to be working well thus far.

A crowd estimated at more than 300 people attended town hall meeting about the status of the Panguitch Lake Dam, held at Panguitch High School, April 10, 2024 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Speaking to an estimated crowd of more than 300 people who attended a town hall meeting at Panguitch High School on Wednesday night, Panguitch Mayor Kim Soper said he’s been “overwhelmed” by the amount of support that’s been offered from neighboring communities.

“I’ve had so many calls,” he said. “People want to help from local towns around us, from people here in our county. You can’t believe how many people have called wanting to help Panguitch City.”

Garfield County Sheriff Eric Houston also spoke, saying, “I feel a lot better about the situation we’re in. It looks a lot better than it did yesterday at four o’clock.”

Added Houston: “I trust the plan they’re implementing; it looks like it’s working.”

Houston also addressed what residents should prepare for, should an evacuation become necessary.

Houston noted that if the dam were to breach, Panguitch residents would have an estimated two to three hours before the floodwaters reached town.

Houston and other officials promised that residents needn’t worry about missing out on the evacuation order.

State and local officials listen to questions from the public during a town hall meeting at Panguitch High School, April 10, 2024 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“We’re gonna go through first with sirens, let you know that we need to start evacuating,” he said. “(Then) we’re gonna follow up from the far west side of town, start knocking on doors.”

“If you haven’t signed up for our alert system, you can get on our website and sign up for that,” Houston added. “I’d recommend you do that.”

Links to all past and future communications, along with a link to sign up for emergency alerts, are all being consolidated on the county’s website, Houston said.

During his remarks, Garfield County Commissioner David Tebbs noted that the commission, in conjunction with Panguitch City had officially declared an emergency, which he noted “opens up funding sources from the state and federal government for these kinds of situations.”

Tebbs expressed his confidence in the course of action that’s being taken.

“I trust the plan,” he said. “I believe that the officials that are called to take care of it and the engineers, they’re doing the best they can, and we saw some improvements today.”

Workers use trenching equipment to cut across the ice on the lake side of the Panguitch Lake Dam, April 10, 2024 | Photo courtesy of Utah Department of Public Safety, St. George News / Cedar City News

Utah Department of Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson also spoke, saying , “I can assure you that the state of Utah stands behind the efforts of what your community is going through.”

“I couldn’t be more thrilled with the cooperation and coordination of what we’ve seen just getting together today,” Anderson added. “And the fact that pulling off a town hall meeting just was simply announced this morning and to see the kind of turnout we have, you have a community that is in very good hands.”

Also speaking was ​​Everett Taylor, assistant state engineer with Utah Division of Water Rights, who oversees dam safety.

“My hope tonight is to give you a brief summary of what’s transpired at the dam and the efforts that are underway to protect and prevent a failure and flooding into your community,” Taylor said, adding, “So, we were first notified of an incident at the Panguitch Lake Dam on Monday evening, and worked in conjunction with the West Panguitch Irrigation Company to begin releases from that reservoir and lower the reservoir level. In addition, we worked with the sheriff’s office to begin 24/7 monitoring of the dam. Engineers from our office arrived on site Tuesday morning, to monitor conditions and to provide technical support to emergency personnel and to the owners.”

Taylor shared three specific mitigation efforts that have been taking place since leaking from cracks in the upper portion of the dam was first noticed on Monday evening:

Officials plan to continue drawing down the lake’s water level by releasing water through an outlet in the dam. Panguitch Creek was flowing at 258 cubic feet per second on Wednesday, Taylor said.
Four pressure-relieving cuts were made across the ice atop the lake using trench-digging equipment. “That really released the ice pressure,” Taylor said. “The ice has pulled away now from the dam and (has) taken that pushing force off of the upstream face of the dam.”
An excavator was used to pile stabilizing material along the downstream side of the dam, to help stabilize the portion of the wall that had been rotating. This action has helped reduce the wall’s angle from 8 degrees to 2 degrees on Wednesday, he said.

Taylor said mitigation efforts will continue. Once the dam’s status has been stabilized, he said, “Then the next step for us is to address reservoir management through spring runoff, so that we don’t get into this emergency condition again.”

Everett Taylor, assistant state engineer with Utah Division of Water Rights, speaks during a town hall meeting at Panguitch High School, April 10, 2024 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Taylor said the state water rights division will work closely with the irrigation company officials to do that, along with personnel from local and state entities.

“After we get through the runoff, then we will evaluate and assess the damage and what caused this, and then effect a permanent repair to the dam,” he said.

Added Taylor: “I just want to add I’m very encouraged with the progress that has been made today. And I’m very grateful to the coordination through all city, county, and state agencies as we’ve worked through this process.”

Also speaking were Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Ben Cox, who went over school and community evacuation procedures, should they be needed. And Wade Mathews, public information officer for Utah Division of Emergency Management, who reiterated the importance of being prepared in case of an emergency.

Residents who wish to pick up and/or help fill sandbags can find them located in the rear parking lot of the Panguitch LDS Stake Center on the south end of town.

Thursday afternoon, Utah Department of Public Safety issued an updated statement on its website that stated, in part:

Panguitch Lake mitigation measures that have been implemented have so far been effective.  The water level at the dam has dropped close to 6 inches over the last two days since the measures were implemented. Authorities are still planning to lower the water level by several feet over the next 7-9 days but feel greatly encouraged by the progress.

In addition, the statement notes that efforts to relieve the pressure on the expansion section at the topmost part of the dam have allowed that section to rebound from an 8-degree tilt to just over a 1-degree tilt.

“This has greatly improved the dam’s stability until permanent modifications can be made,” the statement adds.

The statement also notes that to date, no infrastructure has been damaged or lost.

Water flows through Panguitch Creek, Panguitch, Utah, April 10, 2024 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“Only minor washouts have occurred due to the increased water flow in Panguitch Creek and area ditches and canals,” the statement notes, adding, “Those issues were managed and controlled as they arose.”

Mayor Soper cautioned residents to be vigilant about keeping small children away from the now-rushing creek waters.

“If you go up to the creek right now it is very high, really, really high,” he said. “So I would say if you’ve got small children or anybody, please just stay away from Panguitch Creek. Don’t go over there … Be safe, and stay away from there.”

Wednesday’s town hall meeting also included a Q&A session during which officials fielded a variety of questions from members of the public.

One of the many questions that was answered was about the closure of the 17-mile stretch of state Route 143 between the southern edge of Panguitch city limits to the dam at the northern edge of Panguitch Lake.

Although he road closure remains in effect as of Thursday night, the decision is expected be re-evaluated if conditions are deemed safe enough for the road to reopen to traffic.

To watch Wednesday evening’s hourlong meeting at Panguitch High School on YouTube, click here.

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