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SALT LAKE CITY — As the weather warms this week, many Utahns are preparing for the possibility of flooding. But, many of those preparations were made years ago, after the devastating floods of 1983.
"We've had some relatively high water events, in 2005 for example, and we've been able to pass those through because of these improvements," said Salt Lake City utilities director Jeff Niermeyer, referring to heavy stream flows.
The snowpack this year is greater than it was in 1983. Creeks and rivers are roaring, but Niermeyer pointed out the Salt Lake Valley is much better prepared today.
On Memorial Day Weekend 1983, City Creek flowed down State Street, all the way to 1300 South, then on to the Jordan River. Since then, as much as $70 million have been spent to target problems.
Niermeyer said the improvements have paid off. "There was a series of improvements that were made that didn't so much increase the capacity of the system, but really increased the structural integrity of the system," he explained.
On City Creek, above Memory Grove, the flooding was so severe it ripped boulders and large debris from the banks and sent them into the system. That debris clogged the creek channel, forced water over the banks, and made for even worse flooding.
After the flooding of '83, the city built a couple of catch basins straddling Bonneville Blvd. to make sure that the large debris doesn't go anywhere. The city also spent $1.5 million on mesh baskets loaded with rocks to shore up the banks.
The city also made big changes in Memory Grove to help mitigate flooding. The bottom of the pond was resurfaced with cement so that a backhoe can go into the pond to scoop out debris, preventing it from going further down the system.
City workers also put in a much more substantial grate to keep sticks, logs and rocks from flowing into the system, which goes underground after the park.
"A lot of the challenges that the systems got was not so much the high water that was flowing, but some of the debris that was moving with it," Niermeyer said.
To help with capacity, Little Dell Reservoir was built above Parley's Creek for $23 million, a network of diversion pipes under the city was expanded to handle even more water, and catch basins were built for Big and Little Cottonwood creeks.
So, how will the system work this year? Niermeyer is confident, but the weather can always throw a curve. "If we do have problems, it will be much more contained," he said.
Here's something many may forget: 1984 had higher stream flows than 1983. Many of those improvements were in place and spared Salt Lake City a lot of damage.