Heber Valley prepares for spring floods
Heber Valley emergency managers say local agencies are getting ready for floods as deep snowpack and increasing rain could make for heavy runoff. They advise people to be on alert and take precautions.
Heber Valley communities are gearing up for the possibility of major floods at some point this spring. While it’s hard to know exactly when to expect that, Wasatch County Emergency Manager Jeremy Hales says county and municipal public works crews, water companies and the general public have all taken proactive strides to stave off water damage.
“Overall, with the preparedness efforts that we're seeing from all the citizens county-wide, the cities and towns and the county are prepared to protect critical infrastructure. It’s well orchestrated and moving very well,” Hales says. “I think all of our community partners are helping and making a difference, proactively combating potential flood problems.”
That collective effort includes public works crews cleaning debris out of flood channels, as well as canal and irrigation companies clearing their respective waterways.
In 2011, one of the most recent years of heavy flooding in Heber, heavy flows in those channels carried uprooted trees among other debris, and city workers cleared filtration systems 24/7.
Hales also commends residents for taking the free sandbags the county public works office recently offered at its office in Heber City.
He says people have filled more than 17,000 sandbags in two weeks since it opened. Over 500 users have scanned a QR code at that station. Hales says that’s an underrepresentation, and the number of visitors is likely many hundreds more.
And among those visitors, service-minded sandbaggers had more than their own interests in mind. Church and civic groups have taken the bags to block flooding at homes where people are less able to do it themselves in Heber, Midway, Wallsburg, Hideout, Lake Creek, Independence and Daniel.
Heber City and Wallsburg also have sandbag-filling stations. So far in Heber, the city-operated station is just for public works to prepare bags in case they need to build walls or water channels.
But Heber City Public Works Director Matt Kennard says his department is ready to open more sandbagging stations for the general public if needed, and he’s glad the turnout at the first one has been high.
“It has been extremely, extremely gratifying to see the response that we have received from the public,” Kennard says. “There were 20 cars that we're waiting to get in. It means a lot for us to know that people are taking it seriously enough that they're trying to protect their own homes and trying to take the steps necessary and not waiting for problems to occur, just being proactive.”
Kennard said one of the main prevention projects happened last fall, when his crews cleared the Spring Creek Canal. That effort involved fixing eroded banks, trimming trees and clearing branches and spanned about four miles.
Because floods can be difficult to predict between sporadic snow storms and warm spells, Hales encourages people to watch for signs.
Anytime it rains while the ground is hard, whether dry or frozen, sheet flooding can happen. If rain falls when the water can’t absorb into the ground, it moves in the path of least resistance, causing flows in unpredictable channels.
That’s part of why it’s important to be on alert any time a storm comes through.
Eventually, when springtime warmth melts the mountain snowpack, water levels could rise quickly. Hales says to watch for drainage water backups, puddles and any other signs of rising groundwater levels in and around their homes.
“They just need to watch for that water, and if they see it starting to puddle, they need to protect their houses or their properties the best they can,” Hales says.
Depending on precipitation totals and types, storms as early as this week could cause sheet flooding.
Measurements in local mountains of snow water equivalent, or the amount of water contained the snowpack, are between 150% and double the averages for this time of year.
Information about local water levels is available on a national water database on the U.S. Department of Agriculture website.