Run-off continues to pose flooding risk in Utah County, cities continue preventive measures
Courtesy Lehi City
Across the county, cities are still experiencing runoff and minor flooding from this winter’s record-breaking snowpack.
On Thursday, for the second time this flood season, Lehi City closed the spillway gates to Dry Creek Reservoir and hired divers to clear out debris clogging the water flow.
“Anytime we see our water sources are not flowing as effectively, especially from the reservoir, we contact the dive team. Last week, they came and we closed the gates, so residents might have thought that our water levels were low for a couple hours. Then all of a sudden, there is a lot more of a flow once the gates open again, and it evens out,” said Jeanteil Livingston, Lehi communications manager.
After the city dealt with its own flooding in 2019, they made changes to the reservoir to be able to better control its water levels. Other systems in place include swales — large, grass-covered ditches in yards and fields that can hold water and prevent it from reaching nearby buildings or homes.
The swales in front of and behind Lehi Elementary School were recently seen filled with water from last weekend’s rainstorms, but Livingston stressed it is not a cause for panic.
Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald
“That’s what it’s designed to do. That isn’t any sort of overflow or flooding, it was all expected,” she said.
The reservoir is three feet away from overflowing, a good level, according to officials who are monitoring and maintaining the flow of the river and have yet to experience flooding in the area, they said, due to consistent preventive measures.
In neighboring American Fork, 45 truckloads of debris on Thursday were cleared from a debris basin by the mouth of the canyon. The American Fork River is currently two and a half feet from overflowing.
The river is now flowing at 500 cubic feet per second. City officials believe the river can handle a couple hundred more CFS before overflowing.
Camden Bird, assistant city administrator, said the city’s stormwater division is always on top of clearing out debris and has employees watching the river around the clock. If flooding does occur, it is most likely to happen by the boat harbor, the lowest point in the area.
In that scenario, the road will be closed and flood water will wash over nearby fields and into the lake, nowhere near any property that could be lost. Water will then be redirected back into the river to reopen the roads.
“I think 1983 taught everyone a lesson. We had a big year in 2011 too. In fact, from what I understand volume-wise, it was greater than the flooding in 1983, but we didn’t have flooding anywhere. Nothing happened even then just because of the infrastructure changes and the other kind of proactive approaches,” Bird said. “We went and cleaned our entire river channel throughout our whole city. And as long as nothing comes down the canyon that we miss or happens in another city above us, we think we’ll be fine.”
In south Utah Canyon, flood risks and problems have been higher since the beginning of the season. Spanish Fork Mayor Mendenhall on May 1 issued a Proclamation of Local Emergency which the city council later extended, allowing the city to access resources that will help curb flooding and protect homes, as flood risk is expected to continue until early June.
Spanish Fork officials said there was just under seven inches of low-level snowpack remaining on May 9, after 28 inches were recorded at its peak. High-level snow was measured at 24 inches.
“High-level snow is what is on the mountains 9,000 feet and above. Low-level snow is below 8,500 feet. The greatest flood risk happens when both the high and low-level snowpack melts at the same time,” the notice said.
Charts detailing the current snowpack, river flows, and predicted flows can be seen on the city website. Trails under the Main Street bridge and the West Park Drive bridge, as well as Urban Forest, Quail Hollow and River Cove south of the river are all closed due to flooding.
City officials sent a letter to parents of young students May 12 after four high schoolers attempted to kayak down the river, resulting in a police, fire, EMS, helicopter and search and rescue response. Two of the kayakers were flipped accidentally out of their kayaks and were in the water by the time emergency personnel arrived.
“The youths’ actions of entering the dangerous waters prompted the full response.Thankfully, all of the young men were able to get out of the water safely,” officials said in a letter sent out to parents.
The letter asked parents to warn their children about the dangers of fast, cold currents, to stay away from the river, and to avoid any recreational river activities.
U.S. 89 also remains closed after Thistle Creek jumped the road near the “ghost town” destroyed in the 1983 floods, which has had its share of difficulties with past flooding. The town is found along the Spanish Fork River past Loafer Mountain and Spanish Fork Peak.
“Utah County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Manager Peter Quittner and Public Works Director Richard Nielson are working around the clock with UDOT to mitigate major issues. Highway 89 is still closed as crews work to reinforce the dirt berm that abuts the road,” Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson said in a video shared to Facebook on Thursday.