Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — A federal levee safety inspection program delivered a failing grade to the Jordan River surplus canal, indicating repairs are necessary to bring the aging system up to an acceptable standard.
Scott Baird, Salt Lake County's director of engineering and flood control, said he is aware the repairs are needed, adding that $600,000 has been requested for the coming budget year to help address the trouble.
It's a complicated problem to fix, Baird stressed, adding that the county is actively working with partners such as the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities and the Salt Lake City International Airport to fix the problems.
"A lot of the deficiencies don't belong with the county," he said during a Friday teleconference discussing the levee system. "We've put together a plan to address those deficiencies."
The poor marks were delivered as part of a levee safety inspection program revamped by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2006. Since then, the agency has inventoried 14,000 miles of levees in the program and delivered assessments on problems that could result in a system breach.
The surplus canal was built in 1910 and rehabilitated 50 years later. It is designed to take excess flows of the Jordan River to the Great Salt Lake, diverting that water at 2100 South.
Along the way, multiple urban creeks and storm drains deliver their own set of flows — and problems — into the system, making it one of the more complicated but significant flood control measures in Salt Lake County.
Ryan Larson, an engineer with the Corps' levee safety program, said anything along the 18.4 miles of the levee's banks that would jeopardize its performance would result in a poor rating.
Inspectors looked for rodent holes, slope stability issues, seepage and any bank caving during the May reviews, noting that the most serious deficiencies were encroachments and levee depressions.
“Levee inspections are all about making sure that a levee can reliably do what we expect it to,” Larson said. “Our findings help the agencies that own and maintain these levees prioritize levee fixes — and help the public understand their flood risk and make informed decisions about protecting their property.”
Russ Wall, director of Salt Lake County's public works department, said crews have already begun fixing some of the identified problems, completing work on 55 sites.
The county is hiring an engineering consultant to evaluate the structural and hydrologic performance of the system and is doing an analysis to identify where encroachments exist to the right-of-way.
While homes, businesses and other infrastructure are vulnerable to damage in the event of a flood, Baird pointed out that the surplus canal performed well during the high flows it encountered in the high water year of 2011.
"We had high flows, but we did not flood," he said.
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