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Northern Utah braces for more flooding as Salt Lake declares state of emergency

Sandbag teams work to divert water from Emigration Creek over 1700 South in Salt Lake City. April 13, 2023.
Sean Higgins
Sandbag teams work to divert water from Emigration Creek over 1700 South in Salt Lake City. April 13, 2023.

Climbing temperatures in northern Utah are melting this winter’s record-setting snowpack, resulting in flooding that’s overflowing streams and storm drains.

Overnight flooding on April 11 in Kaysville caused a road in a newly-constructed neighborhood to collapse. Water is rushing down foothills throughout the state, creating new temporary rivers and streams. And both Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County have now issued states of emergency.

A voluntary evacuation order was placed on roughly 100 homes near Wasatch Hollow as Emigration Creek spilled over onto Salt Lake City streets.

“We had debris come down in the middle of runoff that apparently clogged the storm drain here, which caused us to need to do overflow for Emigration Creek,” said Public Utilities Director Laura Briefer.

Teams of volunteers filled sandbags as the creek was briefly diverted onto 1700 South, and flows caused damage to nearby 1500 South. According to officials, property damage in the Salt Lake Valley has been minimal so far.

Saige Miller

Salt Lake resident Vickie Thomas came down to help after hearing a call for volunteers on the news.

“I used to live up in this neighborhood 40 years ago,” she said. “And so I thought, ‘Hey, I have time and energy, let's come and do what we can to save some homes around here.’”

Fellow Salt Laker Ben Friel said the sandbagging effort “gives you faith in society” as people are coming to help each other out, “even if you don't necessarily know everyone.”

Neighborhood cooperation and sandbags are a familiar scene around the West. In Flagstaff, Arizona, neighbors on one street have been working side by side since Tuesday with shovels to stave off floodwaters from their homes. Sandoval County in north-central New Mexico issued an emergency disaster declaration in the wake of severe flooding in communities near the Jemez River. And in northwest Colorado, flooding in the small town of Hayden had closed the highway between Craig and Steamboat Springs.

Back in Utah, water has been receding with the cooler weather moving in. Even so, multiple mudslides were reported on canyon roads, including one that forced the temporary closure of Interstate 80 southeast of Salt Lake City in Parleys Canyon.

Gov. Spencer Cox issued an executive order in March that allowed state employees to take time off to help with local flood responses and local communities have braced for flooding for weeks.

“The evidence of our history-making snowpack and spring thaw is now being felt throughout the state,” Cox said at an April 13 news conference. “In pockets throughout the state, we're certain that these flood conditions will continue in the coming months.”

As mitigation efforts continue, emergency management officials ask that the public stay clear of any flooded areas.

“If you do not have business up in this area, please, please, please stay away,” said Salt Lake County Emergency Management Director Clint Mecham. “We've got lots of heavy equipment operating. We do not want to get anybody hurt because we've gotten careless at this point in the incident.”

Although temperatures aren’t expected to reach the same highs as earlier in the week, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall is expecting flood conditions to persist into the future.

“Looking into the coming week and beyond that, as we see temperatures rising in the forecast, we are already planning ahead for some of the areas that could see similar elevations [as the Emigration Creek] situation.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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