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Hogle Zoo flooded in 1983. They want to avoid a repeat during the big spring runoff

Giraffes inside their Africana Savanna habitat at Utah's Hogle Zoo, April 27, 2023. The African Savanna is close to where Emigration Creek enters the zoo property.
Saige Miller
/
KUER
Giraffes inside their Africana Savanna habitat at Utah's Hogle Zoo, April 27, 2023. The African Savanna is close to where Emigration Creek enters the zoo property.

Today, Doug Lund is the CEO of Utah’s Hogle Zoo. But in 1983, he was 21 years old, fresh off a mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a maintenance worker at the zoo. He remembers when Emigration Creek poured into parts of the zoo.

“Water backed up underneath this bridge and filled this whole area up,” he said, pointing to an open landbank right along the creek and close to the African Savanna exhibit. “But it came within maybe a foot of breaching this road.”

That road didn’t exist back in 1983. Lund said it was a “big flat space ready to be developed.”

The zoo learned a few lessons from Salt Lake City’s historic 1983 flood. In 2014, when it added the African Savanna, Lund said they recognized “the need to improve the flow characteristics” of the culvert, or tunnel, “both structurally and hydrologically.”

They built a concrete headwall and renovated the culvert to allow water to flow better and let big pieces of debris pass through without clogging up the waterways.

Water from Emigration Creek shoots out of a large culvert located on Hogle Zoo's property, April 27, 2023. The culvert allows water and debris to flow through.
Saige Miller
/
KUER
Water from Emigration Creek shoots out of a large culvert located on Hogle Zoo's property, April 27, 2023. The culvert allows water and debris to flow through.

In 1983, Lund said water was bustling down Emigration Creek at around 146 cubic feet per second. Just about a month ago, it was rushing down at 160 cubic feet per second, the equivalent of around half a million pounds of water a minute.

“This was the first year it was really tested and it was and it was tested heavily. So we're hopeful that we're in good shape moving forward,” he said.

Even with the improvements, there is a concern the zoo could still flood. The record-breaking snowpack has had the staff on high alert and ready to jump into action if the water level reaches an unsettling point.

Jeff Landry, Hogle’s zoological risk manager, has been keeping a close eye on the snow totals and started creating a flood plan about a month before the melt began. His biggest concern was the possible blockage of the 1,400-foot culvert that stretches throughout the 42-acre property.

“And when you have 160 feet per second of water coming down, even a partial block would back up quickly,” he said.

Zoo staff ran their first-ever flood drill on April 12, when Emigration Creek was so high it was threatening residential homes.

Landry said staff treated the drill as if it were real, where structures and animals are in danger.

Zebras roam and lounge inside their Africana Savanna habitat at Utah's Hogle Zoo, April 27, 2023. The African Savanna is close to where Emigration Creek enters the zoo property.
Saige Miller
/
KUER
Zebras roam and lounge inside their Africana Savanna habitat at Utah's Hogle Zoo, April 27, 2023. The African Savanna is close to where Emigration Creek enters the zoo property.

The two biggest flooding concerns for exhibits are the African Savanna because it’s located right where Emigration Creek meets the zoo property, and the Great Apes because it’s placed right in the middle of the zoo.

“We would actually cut a channel and allow the overflow to go around the back side of the giraffe building, we would bring it around the barns, bring it down to Meerkat Manor,” he said. “We'd have to deflect it so it doesn't go down to the apes, then run it down the hillside behind apes, and then it would dump out into Oasis Plaza, where we'd have to either re-bring it into the creek up or bring it down the hill and deflect it in.”

Crews also set up sandbagging stations to block water from entering the African Savanna or pooling in any specific area. But when the African Savanna was built, Lund said they kept flood challenges in mind.

“The moat that's around the savanna, it was actually designed as a containment basin for a storm drain. And so that would buy us some additional time to redirect water,” he said.

For extra protection, the zoo installed infrared cameras along the creek to monitor water levels. They also placed markers on trees and along the creekbed.

If animals were in flood danger, there are protocols in place for each animal. Rachael Eames, the marketing and public relations manager, said the animal care team would be responsible for moving them to a secure place.

“All of the animals here participate in voluntary training that if we needed to move them or if we needed to shift them, every day they’re training for that, and they're building that trust with the animal care staff to do it quickly and safely for everyone involved,” she said.

Emigration Creek has likely already peaked for the season, but even if it did cause a flood, Landry hopes their preparedness would pay off.

Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
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