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Special Report: Danger Zones

Special Report: Danger Zones

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This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

Samantha Hayes reporting Utah is supposed to be the second driest state in the nation. But this year the tide turned. We've had lots of snow and rain. According to scientists, some areas of the state, besides southern Utah, are at risk.

Development has exploded in Utah since the floods of '83, and there's been a lot of effort since to manage the potential for disasters. Some properties along the Jordan River are using technology that is supposed to prevent erosion. But state geologists say there are homes along this corridor that will probably experience some flooding this Spring.

When it comes to natural disasters, "This is the place."

Gary Christensen/ Geologic Hazards Program Manager: "You can get anything from landslides, debris flows, to avalanches, and even in some cases the Wasatch fault is up on the mountain front."

The worst flooding drama happened in 1983 when an unusually deep snowpack melted very quickly.

Gary Christensen: "Even back then there were a lot of hillside areas that hadn't been developed. So we had a lot of landslides there that could have been damaging had there been homes in the area."

Now, nearly 20 years later, there are lots of homes on hillsides, and homes in flood plains. And in some places, like Farmington, current snow pack levels in green are tracking higher than 1983, in red.

Gary Christensen: "The main areas we are monitoring are in Weber and Davis Counties."

Tom Smith/ Davis County Public Works: "We are trying to clean out these flood channels of the kinds of things you see here."

Foot bridges, wood piles, and decks. When the water runs high, these things can clog flood channels and put homes like the ones along Holmes Creek in Davis County at risk.

"We had it clog one time. They called me. I jumped in the water and unclogged it."

Tom Smith: "They aren't happy having us tell them what they can and can't do with their property."

Another potential flooding problem for Davis County is largely uncontrollable. The level of the Great Salt Lake. Farmington Bay is a low 4,196 feet.

Geologists say it would take several well above average water years for it to swell again. The record is 4,212 in 1986.

If Farmington Bay reaches the highwater mark again, it is believed that the area of the intersection of Farmington Creek and Glover Lane would be underwater and the new developments that have gone in in recent years would be in jeopardy.

Tom Smith: "There could be some flooding."

There already has been for Jolene Hoster.

Jolene Hoster/ Homeowner: "If I remember correctly, I believe they told us they sucked out 120 gallons of water between the backyard and what was in my carpet."

That was Christmas Day, 2003. Hoster lives in Farmington Ranch, Phase I. The water table is high, and she knew that before the home was built. No basements, and either flood insurance or a sump pump is required.

Jolene Hoster: "We've learned a lot of mosquitos, a lot of water, and everything isn't extremely the way we would want to live."

Where developments have creeped up mountainsides, lots of water creates another potential danger.

Francis Ashland/ Department of Natural Resources: "One component is in place for us to believe there is heightened potential for landslide."

Geologists are watching landslides along the Ogden and Weber River bluffs and in Western Wasatch County. In Draper City, where lots of new homes have been built, a geotechnical engineer is in charge of monitoring development plans.

Alan Taylor/ Geotechnical Engineer: "We make sure they aren't building on faults, that they are not building on areas that may have a landslide during a seismic event or on a normal day."

Where and when the next event will happen is impossible to predict. But scientists say we have the information now to minimize the risk.

Gary Christensen: "I think there definitely has to be a greater recognition of these hazards and we have to spend money to deal with them."

For the most part, federal flood maps are outdated. But you can check to see if your property is in a flood zone or exposed to other geologic hazards.

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