Salt Lake County braces for flooding after a heavy snowpack this winter

Officials are working with the state and other jurisdictions to prepare for spring runoff from the Wasatch Mountains after a wet winter created a large blanket of snow.

(Blake Apgar | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson fills sandbags with her father, former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson, Friday, March 17, 2023 in Midvale. The county braces for possible flooding during runoff season in the Wasatch Mountains.

Utah got the water it wanted this winter, but what’s snowed up needs to flow down.

Yes, that massive snowpack in the Wasatch Mountains has officials preparing for possible flooding as warmer weather approaches.

Kade Moncur, director of Salt Lake County’s flood control efforts, expects the spring runoff to bring rapid currents into the Little Cottonwood and Big Cottonwood creeks.

“We would pay attention to that,” said Moncur. “You’re going to see a lot of flooding, very fast moving water,” he said. “There could be canal damage and erosion along these canals.”

Moncur said the county is keeping all culverts and bridges along these canals clear of debris to prevent the roads from being washed out.

To prepare for possible flooding in the Cottonwoods and elsewhere, county officials and volunteers launched a two-day effort Friday to fill 15,000 sandbags. The barriers are stored at a county facility in Midvale and are available for residents to use.

County Mayor Jenny Wilson said officials are monitoring temperatures and keeping a close eye on water levels in streams coming down from the mountains.

“Right now we have some safety concerns,” she said. “We want people who are around these rivers to be aware that they flow much faster than they have in the past.”

Wilson urged neighbors near waterways to clear brush and other debris that could clog streams and divert water to upstream properties.

The spring runoff poses a flood risk every year, she said, but this year’s heavy snowpack has prompted greater coordination with the state and other jurisdictions.

Those involved in this coordination include the Salt Lake City Public Utilities Office started leaking water from the Little Dell and Mountain Dell reservoirs to reduce the pressure in the system.

City crews, meanwhile, are clearing debris that could clog drainage networks and providing free sandbags.

Although local governments are taking extra precautions, department head Laura Briefer did not anticipate the magnitude of the flooding that swept through the Utah capital in 1983.

“We’re pretty optimistic,” Briefer said, “that we won’t see widespread flooding from runoff this year.”

Briefer said the city’s system has greater capacity than it did in the 1980s, with greater reservoir storage, more retention and detention ponds, and improvements to City Creek drainage.

Flooding, Briefer said, is dependent on weather conditions over the next few weeks. The region’s best-case scenario is a gradual rise into warmer temperatures.

“The worst-case scenario is if we continue to have very cold temperatures and/or additional precipitation that delays this measured runoff,” she said, “until all of a sudden we’re at greater risk of much higher temperatures, which is what we’ve been seeing.” 1983.”

Forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association show a 33% to 40% chance that northern Utah will experience below-normal temperatures in April, May and June. For the same period, the agency forecasts equal odds of below- and above-average rainfall.

To pick up sandbags, visit the Salt Lake City Public Utilities Office at 1530 S. West Temple or the Salt Lake County Public Works Office at 604 W. 6960 South in Midvale. Salt Lake County braces for flooding after a heavy snowpack this winter

Justin Scaccy

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