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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Free sandbags for Cottonwood Heights residents

Apr 22, 2019 01:31PM ● By Cassie Goff

As the weather warms, melted snow starts heading down the creeks. If this water is compounded with April rainstorms, flooding can be a problem for residents. (Cassie Goff/City Journals)

By Cassie Goff | [email protected]

April showers bring May... floods. 

As snow begins melting throughout the canyons, the water flows down toward the valley through Big Cottonwood Canyon and Little Cottonwood Canyon. If that run-off water is compounded with April rainstorms, flooding can be a serious concern for Cottonwood Heights residents. In preparation, the public works team will be providing free sandbags to residents every Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. during the months of April and May, at the Public Works Yard (3000 East 6519 South). 

“Residents can come if they have local problem areas, like window wells,” said Public Works Director Matt Shipp. 

The public works team has acquired about 20,000 yet-to-be-filled sandbags, so residents can come fill and take home as many as necessary. If residents need help filling sandbags, varying members of the public works team will be available to provide assistance every week.

Shay McCormick was the first team member to help with sandbag dispersion on April 3. During the three-hour window, three residents showed up to pick up sandbags. McCormick helped those three residents fill and take home about 25 sandbags.  

In the past, during sandbag filling events, residents would shovel sand into bags. Besides the inconvenience of that method, Public Works Superintendent Danny Martinez mentioned the main problem with that strategy is overfilling bags. To help alleviate this, the team crafted some sandbag fillers.

The fillers resemble oversized six-packs — about the height of a medium-sized dog — a single wooden board with six holes cut in two separate rows, so three per row. Each hole has a PVC pipe tube. When in use, bags are shimmied up the end of the tubes, then set down so sand can be filled through the opposite end of each tube. After each tube has the appropriate amount of sand, the filler can be pulled upward so the sand slides into the bags. What is left standing is a filled sandbag that just needs to be tied. This method eliminates the potential of overfilling bags. 

When in design, Martinez asked his team if anyone had any carpentry abilities. One of the team members said they did, so he etched the Cottonwood Heights city logo in the side of the wood for each sandbag filler. 

Those fillers will be used to make enough sandbags for multiple pallets. As flood season draws nearer, the public works team along with Assistant Chief Paul Brenneman and additional members of the emergency management city team will be placing those pallets around the neighborhoods with the highest potential of problem flooding. (Kings Hill Drive, 2700 Creek to Union Park Avenue, Royal Lane, lower Siesta Drive and Milne Drive.) The hope is that with the sandbags close and available, residents can walk to the pallet and grab what they need and walk them back to their homes. 

Alternatively, residents may opt to create a human chain during a flooding event, or in preparation, to get the sandbags where they need to go quickly and efficiently. Martinez highly recommends this strategy since each sandbag weighs about 30–40 pounds. Carrying two bags at a time, one in each hand, does not work as effectively because they might rip, or become too heavy. 

Generally, for a stack of sandbags to become an effective blockade, Martinez recommends a two-foot wide, three- to four-foot high stack of sandbags to stabilize the banks. 

“Little Cottonwood Creek residents get nervous this time of year,” Martinez said. “The snowpack up the canyon was over 150 percent. It’s got to come down.”  

The public works team has been monitoring the weather closely. There’s been a slow warming trend, but if there’s a spike with heavy rain, there will be too much water for the capacity of the creeks to handle. The potential for a flood causing impact to residents has continued to rise, even though the last time flooding caused widespread significant damage was in 2010–2011. 

“Public works will be ready. We are the first respondents and we are here to help,” Martinez. 

However, Martinez, Shipp, Brenneman and their teams cannot do it alone. Especially because both the Little Cottonwood Canyon and the Big Cottonwood Canyon are maintained by Salt Lake County. The city has no control over the creeks, or the water — “until the water leaves the bank, then it’s our problem,” said Martinez. 

Much volunteer work and labor is relied on every year, including work from many Scout troops that come out to sandbag-filling events to help. If you would like to volunteer, please contact the city at 801-944-7000.