Facebook Twitter



Unlike Noah, Utah County water-watchers don't know when or if floods are coming this spring. Still, they're doing everything except building arks to prepare.

"The potential is definitely there, but we're trying not to be alarmists," said Greg Beckstrom, Provo City stormwater supervisor. "I think we'll have a lot better picture in two or three weeks."Stormwater and emergency-service managers can stockpile sandbags (Utah County has 30,000; Provo 25,000; Orem 10,000), clean out storm drains, creeks and gutters and enlarge debris basins to control mountain runoff. But they can't influence the weather.

Warm days and cool nights in early spring are ideal conditions for filling reservoirs without flooding. A cold spring followed by warm weather and rain, however, could mean water, water everywhere.

"If all of a sudden the temperature goes up to 80 degrees and there's a thunderstorm, I think we're all going to be in trouble," said Dave Oyler, Spanish Fork city administrator.


A snowpack-monitoring station nearest Provo's runoff area on the back side of Mt. Timpanogos measured water content this week at 39 inches or 179 percent of normal. Water content typically peaks at 26 inches. During the floods of 1983, it topped out at 36 inches.

The peak usually occurs in mid-April. Beckstrom said it's "possible and probable" that water content will exceed 39 inches by that time.

Areas below Rock, Little Rock and Slate canyons and the Provo River have the potential to flood residential neighborhoods. Water flowing down the canyons typically ends up in west Provo.

"I don't think there's going to be any problem on the Provo River because there's a lot of capacity in Deer Creek this year," said Carl Carpenter, a Provo water resources department engineer.

In Orem, street crews have filled sandbags and cleaned storm drains. The main area of concern is northeast Orem.

"Right now we're preparing for a warm spring," said Malcolm Nash, Orem emergency management coordinator. "We're just keeping an eye on things."

Nash said he expects the melt pattern to be moderate. Beckstrom and Nash hope weather conditions stretch runoff over a period of time.

Utah County

"Actually, I don't expect much flooding in the county this year," said Richard Casto, county emergency management director.

If flooding occurs, it likely will happen in the same places it did in 1983 - along small streams that serve as drainage for mountain snowpack. Surface water flooding already has damaged some roads and homes near Elberta. However, County Engineer Clyde Naylor said much of the runoff is being soaked up by drought-stricken soil.

Also, since 1983 the county has constructed debris basins at the mouths of American Fork Canyon, Hobble Creek Canyon, Payson Canyon, Santaquin Canyon, near Vivian Park in Provo Canyon and east of the Thistle landslide and small basins west of American Fork and Springville.

"We're in so much better shape than we were in '83 and '84 because of all the restoration work we've done since that time," Naylor said.

County workers inspected all stream banks and there are a couple areas of concern along the Spanish Fork River, but other stream banks are stable.

South Utah County

Perhaps no city in the county suffered as much damage during the floods of 1983 as Springville. Water destroyed almost every bridge along Hobble Creek, Hobble Creek Golf Course suffered hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage and many roads were destroyed.

Gary Ekker, public service director, said soil conservation officials say the snowpack that will drain into the creek this spring is at 140 percent of normal. About 19,000 acre-feet of water will come down the creek in the next two months.

"Even though the whole thing is contingent upon the weather from this point on, we're still taking things very seriously," he said.

In Payson, department heads hold weekly meetings to discuss flooding possibilities. Water totals in some canyon spots are 140 percent of normal, and city crews are cleaning out ditches that may overflow, said Keith Morey, city administrator. The city also has sandbags.

"Most of the bags would be used to divert flooding in ditches and drains that would swamp the downtown area," Morey said.

In Santaquin, officials are "expecting a few problems, but we're ready for them," said Mayor Lynn Crook. County crews have been strengthening and cleaning the debris basin in Santaquin Canyon, and the town has sandbags left over from the '83 and '84 floods.

"We're definitely vulnerable," Crook said.

North Utah County

Lehi city crews are cleaning out areas of the Dry Creek Channel, which could overflow into the city. Public Works Director Bob Kunz said the city is ordering bags and sand but is hoping the early snow means the unfrozen ground will be able to absorb much of the snow melt.

City officials are attending an area emergency meeting this week and will determine later where the bags would be used.

The debris basin at the mouth of American Fork Canyon is untested because seven years of drought followed its construction. But that and the American Fork River running through town are adequate to hold the runoff, said Carl Wanlass, city administrator. The American Fork boat harbor on Utah Lake was raised five feet to handle excess water.

"We're better prepared this time around," he said.

Uinta National Forest

Mudslides are expected in the foothills stretching from Alpine to Mapleton, especially in fire-charred areas.

"The areas we are normally concerned about had big fires last year," said Loyal Clark, Forest Service spokeswoman. Fire destroyed trees and vegetation in Alpine, Rock Canyon, the Gun Range above Pleasant Grove and Middle Slide Canyon near Mapleton. "We are looking at those areas and watching them carefully."

But that's about all the Forest Service can do. Crews reseeded the ground and built water bars and barriers after the fires. In the past few weeks, however, people an all-terrain vehicles have torn up much of the work done by the Forest Service.

"They're a direct cause of what's going to come off there this spring," Clark said.

Those watershed areas are closed to vehicular traffic.

Deseret News staff writers Jim Rayburn and Jeff Vice also contributed to this report.