The SLC administrator knows flooding firsthand

One of the city’s flood wardens has first-hand knowledge of the rising runoff.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jesse Stewart, Deputy Director of Salt Lake City’s Public Utilities Department, overlooks efforts to bring Emigration Creek under control on Friday, April 14, 2023. He lives nearby.

One of Salt Lake City’s key floodfighters didn’t have to go far to get a taste of the devastating runoff of record snowpack.

Jesse Stewart, deputy director of the City Utilities Office, was making coffee at his home in Wasatch Hollow just after 5 a.m. Wednesday when red and blue lights outside his home caught his attention.

After hearing what sounded like rain, he peered through his kitchen window. His driveway was dry, but the street was shiny.

“I go outside barefoot and wish it was a waterline breach, honest to God, but I soon realized it wasn’t,” he said in an interview on Friday. “So I ran back inside, put on my socks and shoes and headed up the street as fast as I could to get my phone out to make a call.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jesse Stewart, deputy director of the Salt Lake City Public Utilities Department, puts on his work shoes after spending days managing the runoff through Wasatch Hollow Park, Friday, April 14.

Stewart, whose department works with Salt Lake County officials to oversee flood control efforts, stood ankle-deep in water as he made some of the earliest calls in the first flood response of the runoff season in Utah’s capital.

No luck on the first round of calls – they all went to voicemail when he woke everyone up.

“Nobody’s probably ever really had that thought, but I was like, ‘Am I actually awake at this point?'” he said. “Then I quickly realized that I was awake and that I was going to have a very interesting day.”

During the first tidal wave in Salt Lake City, water from Emigration Creek flowed through Wasatch Hollow, triggering emergency orders City And districtcalls for the voluntary evacuation of about 100 homes and a voluntary effort to divert water back into the creek.

Living so close to the current was helpful, Stewart said, because he was on the ground and able to share with key stakeholders what was going on.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Crews are temporarily halting water flow while laying down material to reduce erosion over 1700 South in Salt Lake City while efforts continue to safely drain Emigration Creek through Wasatch Hollow Park, Friday April 14, 2023 .

“When I called, it was a damn quick response,” he said, “to mobilize everyone and get equipment on the ground.”

But this quick response was no fluke, officials say. It came from strategic planning.

In the two days since the flood began, Stewart has had little sleep. His dogs are agitated by all the goings-on in front of his house. It was a lot of work, but he appreciates how well the city and county worked together.

“It’s been a sort of collaborative effort to lead the response and now to lead the assessment of what’s going on,” he said. “Once we have things fully resolved, it will be the recovery from that.”

Despite the dramatic flooding, no major property damage was reported, although three homes suffered minor water damage.

By Thursday afternoon, the worst of the flooding was over — at least for now — sandbags were wrapped and voluntary evacuation lifted.

However, a suspected blockage in the system still had to be resolved.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jesse Stewart, Deputy Director of Salt Lake City’s Public Utilities Department, overlooks efforts to bring Emigration Creek under control on Friday, April 14, 2023.

Stewart declined to speculate as to when currents near Wasatch Hollow would return to normal, as he could not guarantee when the problem would be resolved. Because the suspected blockade is underwater, it was inaccessible to the crews.

However, workers will reinforce the makeshift channel directing flood water into Emigration Creek, the assistant director said, leaving most sandbags along 1700 South and 1500 East in case roads are needed again to handle the flows.

“This will remain in effect until the Emigration Creek drain line restriction is fully resolved,” he said.

Justin Scaccy

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