Where will all the flooding along the Wasatch Front end?

Flood water flowing through northern Utah should probably land at the same spot — the state’s most recognizable landmark.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) People work to save a home as Emigration Creek rises in Emigration Canyon on Wednesday, April 12, 2023.

Along the Wasatch, snowmelt flows into creeks, reservoirs and—unfortunately—some neighborhoods. The cold spell of the last few days has slowed runoff, but warmer temperatures are on the horizon and more water could flow in places it shouldn’t.

But most of the water that flows through places like Emigration Canyon or a neighborhood in Kaysville ends up in the same place: the Great Salt Lake.

Aside from water sinking into the dirt and becoming groundwater, or water being stored in reservoirs, floodwater should find its way to existing rivers and streams, which in northern Utah means the water will eventually flow into the lake Michael Sanchez, a spokesman for the Division of Water Resources in the Utah Department of Natural Resources.

Salt Lake County is part of the Jordan River Watershed, which also includes Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake. According to the Salt Lake County website, the water flowing through Salt Lake’s many streams will likely end up in the Jordan River, which flows north into the Great Salt Lake.

Rivers and streams in Utah County take a slightly longer route, emptying into Utah Lake first before emptying into the Jordan River.

“It would make sense that (flood) water would eventually end up in the Jordan River and the Great Salt Lake,” Laura Briefer, director of Salt Lake City Utilities, told The Salt Lake Tribune.

In Davis and Weber counties, the outflow also flows to Utah’s largest lake.

Weber Basin Water Conservancy District general manager Scott Paxman said most of the flood water will flow into nearby streams and west toward the Great Salt Lake. Flood water in Kaysville, for example, would flow into Bair Creek, which empties into the lake.

Weber County has two main waterways – the Ogden and Weber Rivers. The Ogden is mostly fed by the nearby Pineview Reservoir, but absorbs water on its way west. The Weaver begins in the Uintas and flows through Summit and Morgan counties before joining the Ogden River west of Ogden.

If the water isn’t contained in the area’s many reservoirs — like Echo, Pineview, and Causey — it would flow into the Great Salt Lake.

Like the Weber River Watershed, the Bear River Watershed – which encompasses the northernmost areas of Utah and extends into Idaho and Wyoming – contributes to Lake End.

Sanchez points out that some reservoirs, such as Little Dell and Jordanelle, were not around during the infamous 1983 floods and may serve as crucial means of containing floods. But in 1983 the level of the Great Salt Lake had never been this high.

Today, the Great Salt Lake’s low level means the lake can hold about as much water as the record snowpack can output.

Justin Scaccy

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