Utah's flooding: 'Filling a thimble with a fire hose'

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SALT LAKE CITY — A grim picture of pending floods stored in a still-growing mountain snowpack was painted for a committee of lawmakers Wednesday during on a rain-soaked day with below normal temperatures.

"It is a very, very tenuous time for us if it ever warms up," said Randy Julander, the federal government's premiere snow survey expert in Utah.

KSL's Jed Boal spent Wednesday evening with members of BYU's rugby team as they sandbagged the banks of the American Fork River. Click on the video above to see their story.

"Sooner or later, Utah is going to heat up. It will be like filling a thimble with a fire hose."

Instead of warming spring temperatures melting the mountain snowpack, Julander said Utah's mountains are gaining snowpack with each steady stream of storms that pound through the state.

"Bottom line, it's like trying to stop a semi with a squirrel."

No one said it at the Natural Resources Interim Committee hearing, but it is clear that this year more than rivals that of 1983, when a sudden spike in temperatures led to disastrous flooding and mudslides in multiple parts of the state, leading to emergency federal declarations of disaster.

Julander said he could not recall a time when Smith-Moorhouse Dam, which is still frozen over, was not open for Memorial Day weekend.

In one month, Bear Lake gained two feet of water and in the first two weeks of May, it gained another foot.

Julander said the problem is that a wet April and continuing storms are delaying the melting of snow, which has compressed the time frame for when all that moisture comes out of the mountains.

The presentation came even as Weber County's Causey Reservoir is overflowing its spillway, a situation that cannot be controlled because the dam was never built as a flood-control structure.

Several summer homes, cabins and campgrounds have flooded as the dam has had to give up its water to the Ogden River down stream.

"Once they spill, all control is lost," said Scott Paxton, with the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District. "We are dumping as much as we can to stay ahead of the curve."

Rich Tullis with the Central Utah Project said Jordanelle Reservoir — which in part was built to retain floods — is lower than it ever has been since it was built and Upper Stillwater has been essentially drained in preparation for pending massive runoff.

"We think we have done everything we can," Tullis said.


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