In our opinion: Water everywhere

Published: Wednesday, April 20 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Northern Utah, like much of the West, has a love-hate relationship with water. Either there is too much of the stuff or not enough.

It is a testament to pioneer settlers and their faith and engineering skills, and to the efforts of engineers and managers who have served since that time, that people who live here do not have serious worries about meeting their drinking and sanitary needs even in times of drought. Wet years, on the other hand, tend to tax the best intentions for handling runoff.

As some people who live near Emigration Creek, Weber River and Chalk Creek learned this week, this is a wet year. Mountain snowpacks are, by some reports, higher than in 1983, when spring runoff turned State Street and 1300 South into rivers and unruly water statewide led bishops, pastors and other ecclesiastical leaders to send their flocks away from church on one particular Sunday to stack sandbags and protect homes. That effort gained worldwide attention and earned Utah the reputation as a place where neighbors look out for one another.

That reputation surfaced again last year when high runoff hit some residents of Sandy, Cottonwood Heights, Murray, Midvale, Oakley and other parts of the state. Unlike in 1983, modern Utahns used text messages and other social media to mobilize volunteers. The South Summit High football team abandoned a weight-training session to help with sandbags — a different, but more important, sort of workout.

The rivers that crested during the night Monday are perhaps just a taste of what lies ahead as temperatures begin to rise and snow melts. It is impossible to predict how high the water will rise or who might be affected. The efforts to save Ruth's Diner near Emigration Creek offer a hint at how challenging it can be to keep water from flowing along natural paths.

Residents can pray and hope that temperatures will be mild and runoff will be gradual enough to not cause problems, but they also should be ready. Most of the time, life along the Wasatch Front is pleasant. The elements aren't much of a concern. But when that changes, Utahns need to rely on each other; they need to exhibit the sort of volunteer spirit that has made this such an attractive place to live.

Even if volunteers don't succeed in preventing all property damage, the effort alone will show that people here won't be defeated. A community that pitches in together knows it can face difficulties together. That was the spirit that allowed the earliest settlers to gain a foothold here despite harsh conditions. It is no less important today.

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