7 new landslides in last three weeks, Utah State Geologist says
Jun 14, 2023, 11:00 AM
(Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News)
SALT LAKE CITY — There were at least seven new landslides in the last three weeks in Utah, according to the state geologist at a legislative interim committee hearing Tuesday.
And that number may represent an undercount.
To date, the Utah Geological Survey has recorded 209 landslides in 2023 across the state.
200+ landslides since January across Utah
“It’s well over 200 now that we know about,” said Bill Keach, state geologist. “Probably many many more. I don’t have any slides in the middle of the state and I’m wondering why. It just may be that we don’t hear about them.”
Keach offered that update to the legislature’s Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environmental Quality Appropriations Subcommittee, which met Tuesday morning at the state capitol. He urged them to consider more funding for the Utah Geological Survey, noting several of his funding requests were not met earlier this year.
“One of them was for – to do landslide mapping, and we proposed about $208,000,” he said. “And the governor put in his budget $120,000.”
What could his department do with more funding? Primarily, Keach told lawmakers, they could do more accurate work to predict future landslides and other hazards.
Preventing landslides in Utah
Keach pointed out that the current system favors developers over homeowners.
“There’s gotta be a way that we can help the buyers be better aware,” Keach said, “and that’s what we’re trying to achieve here.”
Better mapping, he said, would result in better outcomes for homeowners who don’t realize their new build went up in a less-than-ideal spot. Currently, he said, only certain areas, primarily in Utah and Salt Lake Counties, benefit from detailed mapping.
“We’d like to push this type of detail to all of our metropolitan areas, get to those urban-wildland interfaces, areas,” he said. “Because those are the areas where we’re encroaching, the people begin to feel those hazards and wonder, ‘Why did we not know about this?’ Areas where there’s a lot of rapid development going on.”
Better communication needed
Keach also said his department could use the funding for better cross-collaboration with local governments.
“We had also asked for some sort of legislation that would allow us to collect all the geologic reports that are generated in the state. So if a developer or a homeowner or a city requires a geologic report for a certain area, if we could get a requirement that sends that data to us, we could archive it and it would allow us to get a better picture of what’s going on in the state and the area,” Keach said.
Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, asked whether that type of knowledge could prevent a homeowner from selling their home in the future.
“Because that would kill the market for Californians moving to Utah,” Lyman joked. “I’m being facetious about that, but I’m wondering if it would turn into something that would prevent a property owner from being able to sell their property.”
Keach didn’t think so, suggesting people would look for ways to mitigate hazards.
“If somebody wants it, they’ll just find a way to better mitigate it,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure people have the right information to make the right decision. And as long as they know what those obstacles are, then they’re going to be more willing to move forward. That’s what I think.”
The members of the committee promised to look for Keach’s future funding requests for the Utah state budget and thanked him for the briefing on landslides.