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Add Lehi Elementary’s schoolyard to the list of Utah places seeing runoff flooding

High waters outside of Lehi Elementary School, May 24, 2023.
Curtis Booker
High waters outside of Lehi Elementary School, May 24, 2023.

Spring runoff has turned the parts of the schoolyard at Lehi Elementary into a pond.

Both Dry Creek and Lehi's waste ditch run through a metal culvert under the school. With higher flows, the culverts can become overwhelmed and lead to water running across the grass in the front of the school and the front parking lot.

Lehi's Water Department Manager Greg Allred said this is by design as a way to alleviate potential flooding upstream.

"It's just really the elementary school and the location and the way it was designed and the way it was built."

The school was built in 1951 and sits between two channels. Over the years, it has been used as an overflow area to allow for additional water.

“If you go to the other side of State Street, northeast of the elementary school, there's a structure that splits the flows. And we have a little bit of control over how much water goes down each channel. Obviously, when we experience really high flows, we lose control and it just kind of runs where it wants to,” Allred explained.

According to the Lehi Free Press, the 2019 spring runoff not only led to an entire flooded playground at the school, but the water also spilled into several nearby homes.

Since then, the Dry Creek Dam and a sedimentation structure have been built on the Lehi and Highland City border. This gives Lehi City control of how much water can be held and released into the stream.

"There's also been some channel improvements that have happened through town. And it really has helped us to accept more water and have just a little bit more control over the amount of water we can release during the daytime hours when the flows are historically and typically low," Allred said.

Lehi's water department said they met with Lehi Elementary officials to discuss the potential for flooding from this year’s heavy snowpack so they could be prepared.

"We put some concrete barriers in place to help channelize the water to keep it off the playground. The school district brought in temporary fencing to keep the kids off the grass while the water is running across," said Allred.

Student drop off and pick up have been adjusted due to high waters running through the parking lot. The school has also installed a bridge so kids don't have to trudge through water in the parking lot.

However, students aren’t missing their normal recess time.

"Student and employee safety is our top priority. The field with water flow west of the school is fenced off and another field and blacktop area are available for students during recess time," said David Stephenson, the executive director of external relations and communications at Alpine School District.

Another concern is kids and adults getting too close to the creek while the flows are running high and fast. The water coming from the mountaintops remains frigid as it melts.

"The temperatures are somewhere in the mid to upper 30s, the upper 30s at max, you know, really frigid of cold water that's moving through these rivers and creeks and streams," said Sam Webber, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service of Salt Lake City.

Although Lehi Elementary's last day of school is Friday, May 26, the risk of high waters on school grounds isn't going away yet. Allred predicts it could be another two to three weeks before the flooding subsides.

"Just speaking from experience, kind of historical data, what we've seen is it kind of peaks around Memorial Day and then it kind of tapers off the second or third week of June."

Curtis Booker is KUER’s growth, wealth and poverty reporter in Central Utah.
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