The parking lot, sidewalks, gazebo, and lawn remain damaged.
After the Wasatch Hollow area of Salt Lake City was flooded in April, emergency measures largely prevented damage to homes. But Wasatch Hollow Preserve still awaits hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs.
The park is currently open with functional trails, but the parking lot, pavilion and walkway remain damaged, as does the turf, which is in poor condition, said Kade Moncour, director of Salt Lake County flood control.
“You can just see that something happened in the park itself that doesn’t usually happen,” said Moncour.
It is estimated that repairs cost between $600,000 and $750,000. and they won’t be completed until the fall at the earliest, said Toby Hazelbaker, director of the Salt Lake City Parks Division. The lawn of the park is also not expected to fully recover until spring 2024.
“We hope the repair cost will be less than $1 million,” Hazelbaker said.
Debris that worsened the flooding was part of the county
In addition to being a recreation area, Wasatch Hollow Preserve is also a flood retention basin that can temporarily fill with water to regulate runoff and prevent flooding elsewhere.
But the outflow of Utah’s record-breaking snowpack — reinforced by a several hundred-pound metal plate clogging the flood control system — inundated the basin. This prompted Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall to sign an emergency executive order late April 12 calling for volunteers to help fill sandbags near 1700 East and 1700 South to limit the damage.
The metal plate belonged to the county and was part of the flood defense system, Moncour said. His job was to prevent concrete erosion should Salt Lake County’s nearest flood defenses fail.
But on April 15, after enough water had been pumped out, Moncour said crews could have seen the plate clogging the system because it wasn’t in the right position.
It would have taken a lot of “effort and intention” to get the metal plate in that position, Moncour said. It’s impossible to say for sure, but he suspects someone flipped the slab when water levels were lower in late 2022 to block the river and create a “water palace” to run around, attributing the blockage to vandalism.
Even if flood control had discovered the clog in the system earlier, flooding would still have been a problem, Moncour said.
“I think there’s a chance it would have been similar, but maybe not as much overflow as at peak times,” he said.
Repairs will take time, officials say
The material damage was limited to a few houses. There was also some erosion damage along 1700 South and 1500 East which was quickly repaired.
“I think the efforts of the city, county and volunteers have worked — they’ve shown that the neighborhood is committed to taking action and preventing it from getting any worse,” said Jesse Stewart, deputy director of the city Welfare Office and Residents of Wasatch Hollow.
Joe Dratter, another area resident, said his neighbor saw flood water forming in his basement. Dratter’s water flowed into his backyard in large quantities, but not into his house. He said the reaction was a “pretty impressive ordeal”.
“We were very concerned throughout the day because at first it was just the city putting up sandbags,” he said. “There was maybe one or two shifts that the city was up throughout the day and then they called whoever could help and there was a line of people just handing out sandbags.”
Two trees later died in the park due to damage to the irrigation system during the first flood when emergency vehicles drove over them. The irrigation system has since been fixed, Hazelbaker said, adding, “It’s getting greener, but it’s a struggle at this time of year.”
Hazelbaker pointed out that further repairs will take time, in part because crews had to first ensure that flooding would not happen again, then assess the damage and allocate funds to fix it.
He added that rushing asphalt and sidewalk repairs before the park’s greenery has recovered is wasteful, as repair vehicles could damage the newly seeded soil even further.
Although signs of flooding can still be seen in the park, officials say it could have been a lot worse. Removal of the slab blocking the flood defense system and stable spring weather helped prevent further flooding.
Improvements to local flood control infrastructure have also been made over the years, officials said, including maintenance work on storm sewers and stream beds; added reservoirs; and modernizations for drainage ditches, debris ditches and retention basins.