Utah agencies prepare for the “big flood”

Watch a multimedia video about Salt Lake County’s flood preparations.

Story and multimedia by ROBERT CALLISTER

Salt Lake County Flood Control is preparing for the potential upcoming flood season due to last year’s heavy flooding. The floods resulted in millions of dollars of damage and the removal of a 20-foot-long bridge in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Experts from Flood Control Services say the levee failure was due to cracks and spillage from unattended creeks.

Salt Lake County Flood Control is preparing for the potential upcoming flood season. Politicians, police and fire authorities and county safety officials met today to coordinate efforts for this year’s possible flooding.

Nearly $3 million were appropriated to the state’s Flood Control and Emergency Services during this year’s legislative session to prepare for and prevent possible flood damage.

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon believes county officials will ready and have learned from 2010’s experience.

“Mother nature will ultimately decide what the flooding will be like this season,” he said. “But we have learned from last year and we want to be prepared. We will be prepared.”

Due to the rising concern and last year’s damage, the county currently has over 5,000 sandbags filled on pallets and plans to have 10,000 by the end of this month. It also has over 400 tons of large, angular rocks (rip rap) stockpiled and ready for distribution.

Scott Baird is the director of Salt Lake County Flood Control and Engineering. He is encouraged by the cooperation among the various active organizations.

“The most significant change of this year from last is the preparation and coordination system among the counties and local safety organizations,” he said.

Last year, the Little Cottonwood Creek flooded over its banks, causing millions of dollars of damage to surrounding residential areas. Over 1,500 volunteers helped by laying down sandbags to control eroded areas.

City officials are worries that this year’s weather patterns are much like that of last year’s. Intense snow storms, especially in the mountain regions, followed by rapid warming caused last year’s flooding. Officials say this year could possibly produce similar snow-melt patterns.

Baird believes there has been an adequate amount of work done to repair affected areas.

“We have done repair work to the channel,” he said. “We have got about $2 million of repair work that has gone in so far. With all of the resources we have stockpiled over the few months, there is not doubt we will be ready.”

Even though there were sizeable budget cuts this legislative session, there was still money appropriated to fund this moderately expensive project. This money has been used to coordinate efforts to gather thousands of tons of supplies and prepare heavy machinery.

Salt Lake County’s Flood Control and Operations Divisions have inventoried numerous pieces of heavy equipment, including back hoes, track hoes and more than 60 trucks available for hauling.

“We have been coordinating with surrounding cities to get their inventory of resources that we can use to augment our resources. On top of that we have contracts with contractors who can haul mobilized equipment and bring in materials.”

Michael Jensen, chief for the SLCO Fire Department, said they learned from the devastating floods of ‘83 and are ready for this year.

“It is night and day from the intense floods of 1983 and right now. We will be ready for whatever mother nature has to throw at us.”

County officials have advised citizens to be specifically cautious at night when it is harder to recognize flood dangers. Also, the instructed parents to never allow children to play around high water, storm drains, viaducts, or arroyos.

Additional safety tip information can be found in the Utah Department of Public Safety website.