This week brought the first of what is expected to be a long series of spring runoffs and floods, but Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said the state is prepared for further flood impacts over the next couple of months.
Hundreds of volunteers helped mitigate flooding in the Sugar House and Wasatch Hollow neighborhoods of Salt Lake City on Thursday morning, and Cox told reporters in an afternoon press conference that more than 1.4 million sandbags have already been distributed to aid efforts across the state.
"What we have in place is working," he said. "What happened in Emigration Canyon yesterday, that's the plan. That actually worked. Two hundred people showed up at 9 at night to fill sandbags and save homes. That's what we do in these situations, and I feel lucky to live in a state where people are willing to do that."
"So much gratitude to all the Salt Lakers and to people from outside of Salt Lake City who came out last night and today to help us manage and bag up the sand," Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said in a press conference later in the day.
City teams have been working around the clock to help with filling sandbags, clearing debris and aiding those impacted, she said.
Mendenhall said the city needs more volunteers on Saturday to replenish reserves of sandbags because so many were used to help mitigate the Sugar House flooding. Filling locations will be at Sugar House Park and Rosewood Park at 9 a.m. Saturday.
"Bring gloves, shovels and a good attitude," Mendenhall said.
Salt Lake Public Utilities Director Laura Briefer said the decrease in temperature Thursday was contributing to a decrease in runoff, especially in the Emigration Creek watershed.
She said the flow has decreased by more than half and the department is continually monitoring runoff from all stream systems to keep people informed of flooding risks as spring continues.
Cox said the current lower temperatures give state agencies and residents a chance to catch their breath ahead of even more snowmelt, and he urged residents to take advantage of the respite.
"Right now my message is twofold. First, please do what you can right now to prepare again," Cox said. "Pay attention to local conditions. Stay away from fast-moving rivers and streams."
Secondly, he reminded state employees of a previous executive order he issued allowing them to use administrative leave to volunteer for flood mitigation.
Aside from the risk of drowning or debris, several agency leaders also cautioned of increased avalanche risk in canyons and the potential for contaminated water from floods. Kim Shelley, executive director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, said the agency is closely monitoring drinking and wastewater systems, but said residents should be aware that floodwaters may be contaminated and to refrain from swimming in, wading in or drinking floodwaters.
"In the event that there is compromised infrastructure — wastewater infrastructure or drinking water sources — we're asking the public to err on the side of caution when it comes to both floodwater and drinking water at this time," she said. "It's best to assume that all floodwater is contaminated with bacteria, viruses and chemicals."
And although all the runoff will be good for the Great Salt Lake, Cox thanked Utahns for ongoing conservation efforts, saying water saved last summer will still make its way to the lake from reservoirs.
"I would just conclude with the immortal words of Gov. (Scott) Matheson back in the '80s that this is a hell of a way to run a desert," he said. "So we're grateful for the water, we need the water."