Salt Lake County preparing for potential flooding

Published: Tuesday, April 12 2011 12:08 a.m. MDT

Russ Kakala, left, street superintendent for Murray and Kim Sorensen, park superintendent for Murray, walk away after surveying bank stabilization work that is being done at Murray Park in Murray to prepare for potential flooding, Monday, April 11, 2011.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

HOLLADAY — David Sauter remembers the night a pool was added at Chateau Foret.

It filled the parking lot of the condominium complex just off Murray Holladay Road and Highland Drive and then overflowed into people's homes.

Chateau Foret isn't far from Big Cottonwood Creek. And when 2010's wet spring was followed by a spike of warm weather in June, water came rushing down the mountains faster and in greater quantity than waterways such as Big Cottonwood Creek could handle.

"There was just so much (debris) coming (down the creek) that it just got clogged up, so it was just filling up," Sauter said. "It was like having our own little wading pool."

Much of that wading was involuntary. People hurried to fill sandbags and move them into place as quickly as possible, while water flowed into the nearby condos.

Today, Sauter and his neighbors are bracing for flooding that some water officials say could be even worse than a year ago and perhaps rival the floods of 1983.

Meanwhile, elected officials and emergency responders are using lessons learned from flooding in Salt Lake County in early June last year to prepare for potential flooding in the coming weeks and months.

"Last year, I think, was a little bit of a wakeup call for everyone," Utah Fire Authority Chief Michael Jensen said. "We're looking at what happened last year (and identifying) areas of concern."

Jensen joined Mayor Peter Corroon and other Salt Lake County officials Monday for a news conference along the bank of Little Cottonwood Creek in Midvale to talk about preparations being made to prevent a repeat of last year.

"We're trying to coordinate beforehand with all of the potential entities, trying to get as much coordination done upfront so we're not duplicating resources," Jensen said.

Last year, county officials coordinated on the fly with their counterparts in Midvale, Murray, Holladay, Cottonwood Heights, Sandy and other east-side cities, trying to keep flood waters out of homes near the raging creek.

At the time, officials said the flow of water was the largest since 1983 — a flood that saw State Street in Salt Lake City essentially transformed into a river.

Salt Lake County officials say snowpack in the mountains east of the Salt Lake Valley is between 130 percent and 140 percent of average — a higher level than a year ago.

And like 2010, this spring has been wet and cool, preventing that snow from gradually melting.

If temperatures suddenly shoot up into the 80s and 90s, as they did in early June 2010, the amount of water coming out of the mountains may be too much for the various channels to handle, said Scott Baird, the county's director of flood control.

"If we were to see temperatures in the 70s for the next several weeks and be able to melt down that snow gradually, we would be in good shape," Baird said.

With fingers figuratively crossed, Salt Lake County crews already have filled 5,000 sandbags, and another 5,000 are expected to be ready by the end of April. The county has about 100,000 empty sandbags on hand, and another 100,000 were ordered Monday, Baird said.

The county also has stockpiled roughly 400 tons of large, angular rock called "rip rap" to place along stream beds. Unlike round rocks sometimes used by landscapers along creeks, "rip rap" can withstand the forces of the running water, he said.

In addition, county officials have worked with the Unified Police Department and Unified Fire Authority to put together a countywide map of "hot spots" along each creek, and they've assessed the the sandbag and heavy-equipment needs for each of those locations.

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