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Wasatch County gives free sandbags as potential floods loom

People fill sandbags at a free station in Wasatch County, as potential flood conditions pose a threat as soon as this weekend.
Wasatch County Public Works
People fill sandbags at a free station in Wasatch County, as potential flood conditions pose a threat as soon as this weekend.

As local emergency management offices warn the deep snow may turn into floods, Wasatch County offers free sandbags and encourages the public to prepare their homes.

Free self-serve sandbagging began Tuesday, when the county public works office reported giving out nearly 1,000 sandbags to Heber City and county residents. People can take as many as they need to build barricades to keep water out.

Wasatch County Emergency Management Director Jeremy Hales said two types of flooding could be imminent: sheet flooding in the short term, and snowmelt runoff as spring sets in.

With temperatures forecast in the upper 40s in the Heber Valley this weekend, he urged people to act quickly if their property may be at risk.

“With the snow that we see out in front of our homes and our businesses today,” Hales said, “if we get rain or that on top of that snow, we could get what they call sheet flooding, and we have water that can't percolate into the soil, it can't dissipate, it can't go away, it just will run across the top of soil and run wherever it may.”

He said people in areas near canals or in flood channels especially should assess their needs.

“It starts with me, me as a citizen, and then we move up and then we work in with the city and the county, they all come in to help us,” he said. “How many sandbags is the right number? I don't know. How soon, and when's the switch going to flip? I don't know when the weather is going to change.”

The deep snowpack elevates concerns about mountain runoff flooding. Hales credited public works crews for clearing flood channels ahead of the heavy flow the county expects.

He said as of this week, SNOTEL sites measured levels of snowpack that will send water to the Heber Valley at 150th to 195th percentile, compared to an average year.

County Public Works Director Matt Kennard said if flooding causes emergencies, the county has a response plan.

Part of that is a trailer that’s loaded and ready to go with sandbags, hand tools, plastic sheeting and flood barriers. It has 350 feet of the barriers, a faster and more efficient way to set up a water barricade, and the county plans to get 300 feet more.

The free sandbagging station is at the Wasatch County Public Works Building at 1891 West 3000 South in Heber City. People should go to a drive-through window on the north side of the building and check in with staff for access. From there, they can fill empty bags by hand, which are provided on-site.

The station is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays. People who want to come after hours can contact Hales at jhales@wasatch.utah.gov or 435-657-3544.

The county has already opened late for community-service groups to get bags for neighbors.

An employee at the public works office said there’s no plan for when the station will close. The goal is to operate it as long as people need it.