Flood prevention efforts underway in Cottonwood HeightsMay 05, 2023 01:17PM ● By Cassie Goff
Volunteers, including families, church groups and neighborhood groups, can continue to fill sandbags at the Cottonwood Heights Public Works yard, 6579 S. 3000 East. (Photo courtesy of Cottonwood Heights City)
With record-breaking snowfall and fast-rising temperatures, Utah residents are voicing their ever-increasing concern about flooding. Cottonwood Heights residents are taking precautions as Big Willow Stream began flowing on April 9 and Wasatch Boulevard flooded the morning of April 10 (around the 8555 South area). On April 13, Big Cottonwood Creek was reporting water discharge levels of 81.40 cubic feet per second (cfs) and Little Cottonwood Creek was reporting 54.30 cfs.
“I want our residents to know that we are taking this seriously. I want them to be educated,” said Cottonwood Heights Mayor Mike Weichers.
Assistant Chief of Police Paul Brenneman and Public Works Director Matt Shipp have been leading flood prevention efforts throughout the city. Emergency management and public works crews have been prepping and distributing sandbags, cleaning debris from creeks and storm drains, and monitoring weather conditions daily.
“Hope is not a plan,” Brenneman said. “Mother Nature controls the plan. We can do all we can to mitigate the risk.”
Cottonwood Heights residents at risk of flooding should prepare to sandbag their doorways and garage access. Brenneman will meet with residents to help them set a plan to do so, if needed.
Sandbags can be acquired at Crestwood Park (1673 E. Siesta Drive) anytime or at the Public Works yard (6579 S. 3000 East) on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Identification is required. Pre-filled sandbags are limited so residents are encouraged to bring their own gloves and shovels to fill their sandbags.
“We are happy to work with the elderly to load them up,” Shipp said.
Sandbags can also be acquired from the Salt Lake County Public Works sandbag shed (604 W. 6960 South) between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays.
“Sand is becoming a hot commodity. We are doing this earlier than we ever have before,” Shipp said.
In early March, the emergency management and public works crews began acquiring the necessary materials for sandbags (conservatively $15,000). The intention was to get anywhere between 6,000 and 7,000 sandbags distributed to three staging locations strategically located throughout the city. By March 21, material for 13,000 sandbags was on site.
April was spent filling and distributing those sandbags. Volunteers, families, church groups and scout groups filled sandbags in varying five-hour shifts. As there are still sandbags that need to be filled, Cottonwood Heights is requesting neighbors to continue volunteering. By April 18, Cottonwood Heights had 40,000 sandbags ready to dispute from the help of over 300 volunteers.
“We are working hard to get things in place to help prevent flooding as much as we can,” said City Manager Tim Tingey.
Once in procession, residents are responsible for the disposal of their sandbags. Old sandbags can be brought back to the staging areas in the city for the public works crews to pick up (but they do not have the resources to collect them from individual homes). This year’s sandbags are made from polypropylene and will deteriorate quickly.
“The sand is good for sand boxes,” Shipp noted about the sand’s reusability.
Salt Lake County and Cottonwood Heights have been attempting to clear debris out of the creeks and streams as much as possible before the outside temperatures rise.
“We are in a much better position if we can get those things cleared out early,” Brenneman said.
But they can’t do it alone. Residents are encouraged to keep all yard debris away from streams, remove any debris they may notice within the creeks or along the waterbeds, report heavy debris dropping into flood beds, and collaborate with municipality crew members.
“If you see something in the creek—take it out,” Brenneman said.
Residents living adjacent to Big Cottonwood Creek or Little Cottonwood Creek (including Deaf Smith Creek) are responsible for monitoring debris in the stream banks. As the property lines for those neighboring residents extend to the midpoint of the creek, residents should clear debris before water levels rise to help prevent flooding and property damage. If debris is too heavy, municipal crews can be called in to help.
“We need residents to be actively engaged and not wait until the last minute to report those things,” Brenneman said.
Once reported, Salt Lake County can begin making efforts to remove heavy debris. However, they are forbidden to put their equipment directly into the water (river channel). Crews must access the creeks and streams from someone’s property in order to clear out that debris.
“Give Salt Lake County access to your backyard,” Brenneman said. “Fallen trees need to be taken care of.”
Brenneman mentioned how impressed he’s been with Salt Lake County as they’re well aware of the points of concern within the city’s boundaries and surrounding area.
“It’s scary in that creek,” said Cottonwood Heights City Councilmember Doug Petersen. “We’ve had many branches come down…more than previous years because of these storms.”
Cottonwood Heights warns residents not to enter the creeks to remove debris once the water has risen. Safety is more important.
“The force of the water coming down this creek this year will be intense,” Weichers said. “You can easily be swept into the current.”
Cottonwood Heights Public Works crews have been working to clean the storm drain system throughout the city as well. They have been designating a few hours each day to clean out the grates and drains. Residents can help clear the storm drain system if small debris (like branches, sticks and leaves) are clogging roadside inlets.
“Storm drains are not built to handle monster floods,” Shipp said. “Streets are designed to carry the 100-year flood.”
Shipp explained that if the inlets get inundated with water, the streets will start to flood, even if the storm drain inlets aren’t plugged with debris.
For flooding questions, visit the Cottonwood Heights FAQ page on their website at www.cottonwoodheights.utah.gov/Home/Components/News/
For more information about Flood Preparedness, visit the Salt Lake County’s webpage at www.slco.org/flood-control/flood-preparedness-manual/
Residents can monitor 18 streams and 15 precipitation gauges (including the three Big and Little Cottonwood Creeks) through Salt Lake County’s website at: www.rain-flow.slco.org/map/
If you see debris or areas of overland flooding along rivers, creeks, streams, canals or areas of channel erosion, call Salt Lake County’s Flood Control at 385-468-6600.
To report a blocked storm drain inlet within the city, local drainage problems or debris within local roadways or intersections, call the Cottonwood Heights Public Works team at 801-944-7000.
Or report online at www.cottonwoodheights.utah.gov/city-services/public-works. λ