This year has a striking resemblance to 1984. That’s because in 1983 Salt Lake was hit with a massive snowpack, rapidly rising temperatures and debris clogging culverts and stream channels leading to flooding in a great number of areas.
That was duplicated last year along Little Cottonwood Creek. Debris, rapidly rising temperatures = flooding.
Nearly forgotten is 1984. One scientist at Texas A&M was quoted in Newsweek magazine as saying the Wasatch Mountain snowpack was a loaded gun pointing at Salt Lake Valley. The snowpack was as great as the year before, but in the intervening 12 months, Salt Lake County improved flood control channels and strengthened streambeds. Plus, Mother Nature cooperated with a soft spring and there was no flooding.
This spring/summer is a reflection of 1) Work that was done throughout the year; 2) Volunteers working tirelessly to fill sandbags; 3) Early efforts of planning, training, and exercising responses to potential flooding became a key factor in mitigating damage to property; and 4) Mother Nature keeping temperatures moderate enough and long enough for our improved creek beds to handle the flow.
Salt Lake County was awarded more than $3 million in funding from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to restore waterways, prevent erosion, remove debris and stabilize banks following the floods of 2010.
We know that temperatures are the biggest determining factory, but we also know that being prepared is a key factor.
Salt Lake County has an inventory of resources including heavy equipment and personnel deployed during most of June into early July, dredging streams, removing debris and checking hot spots. We are coordinating with cities to maximize and share resources under mutual aid agreements.
At one point we had 100,000 empty sandbags stockpiled with more than enough sand to fill them. We also stockpiled 600 tons of large, angular rocks (rip rap). Turns out that more than 100,000 sandbags were delivered and placed along the streams.
It worked. Our biggest concerns became Emigration Creek in mid April and the patio area of Ruth’s Diner, and the controlled flooding of Little Cottonwood Creek at Murray Park in late June and early July.
During the peak runoff June 23-24, we employed a half a dozen JHAT (Joint Hazard Assessment Teams) consisting of County Public Works, Unified Fire Authority and Unified Police Department staff to check hot spots along all swollen creeks. The intelligence they provided helped identify where we could deploy heavy equipment and public works teams to removed trees, debris and rocks from streambeds to keep the water flowing unobstructed to the Jordan River.
The only major damage reported was vandalism-caused at Creekside Park where tampering with the floodgate resulted in damage to a home and Scott Avenue Park where vandals cut chains and cables to lower the floodgate, causing water to back up into the park/detention basin. A reward has been offered leading to the arrest and conviction of the vandals involved in the cases.
Heavy runoff also damaged a corrugated culvert on 2000East at 3500 South. When the stream flow lowers, that culvert will be replaced and the roadway reopened.
It was an eventful spring. We learned that coordinated planning and teamwork pay off.
And once again, our volunteers came to the aid of their friends and neighbors to provide the sand bags that kept the runoff in the channels on Big and Little Cottonwood Creeks.