Record water levels prompts citizens to come together to fill sandbags, officials urge community to stay safe

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This past winter, Utah County was granted the much needed gift of record breaking snowfall. This year, we are sitting at more than 150% snowpack compared to average, and after years of drought, the moisture is most welcome – even if it felt like winter overstayed its welcome with snow storms still hitting in early April. 

Ski resorts rejoiced, extending their seasons, and weather agencies and farmers celebrated noting how the extra water is so desperately needed to fill the lakes, reservoirs, rivers, and streams that were so badly depleted by the previous year’s lack of precipitation. 

Even with all the good that comes from moisture in a desert climate, there have been challenges that have resulted. With warmer temperatures, all that water is coming down the mountain at a faster rate than the snow fell during the winter months, and many of our rivers and streams are not equipped to hold it all, putting our communities at great risk for flooding. 

Many months ago, when it became clear that southern Utah county was going to have much more snow than normal, the local cities realized that they needed to prepare for the flooding that would likely follow. Following the advice of experts, many communities secured sandbags to help prevent major damage from what they knew would be a record breaking runoff season. 

Spanish Fork City began work in early April to do whatever they could to maximize the river’s capacity to prepare for the record breaking amount of water predicted to flow down. In a public announcement, Spanish Fork Mayor Mike Mendenhal and Lieutenant Governor Diedre Henderson gave an update on the preparation.

“We encourage everyone and cities around the state to listen to their local leaders,”  Lt. Governor Henderson stated on a video released to the city’s social media pages. “They are on top of the flooding situation. They know what’s best for you and your homes in your current location.”

On April 29, Spanish Fork City put out a call for volunteers to fill sandbags to protect the homes of residents near the Spanish Fork River, after seeing the forecasted water flow was set to exceed 2,000 cubic feet per second. 

Volunteers were asked to sign up for time slots lasting two hours to fill sandbags at the Spanish Fork Fairgrounds. The community delivered, and over the next couple of days, citizens from all over the city arrived, organized, filled, tied, and loaded massive bags of sand to protect homes in their community. From members of the City Counsel, to church congregations, to middle school athletic teams, the community rallied to do all they could to contain the river. 

On May 1, Spanish Fork Mayor Mike Mendenhall declared a local emergency in response to record breaking river flow forecasts. In a publicly released statement, Mayor Mendenhall addressed the runoff situation.

“The runoff this week is going to test our river’s capacity,” he said. “City crews have done a lot of work in preparing the river channel for the snow melt and volunteers have shown up in force and filled thousands of sandbags over the weekend. Issuing this emergency declaration is the next step as we start reacting to the river.” 

The community’s efforts have been paying off. The sandbags have been doing an excellent job of containing the river and protecting the homes and businesses near it. It is an amazing achievement that the community should be proud of. 

Normal snow runoff season runs from approximately mid April, until mid July. With the record breaking snow levels seen this winter, rivers and streams are anticipated to be running much faster, colder, and deeper than in previous years. Due to this, city officials are strongly encouraging everyone to stay out of the Spanish Fork River. 

“To put it simply, the water is too fast, too cold, and too full of hidden debris and obstacles for anyone to be in the river,” city officials said in a statement.

On behalf of the community, Serve Daily thanks all who have assisted in keeping the community safe this summer.

Ariel Higgs
Ariel Higgs
Ariel Higgs is a married mother of four from Spanish Fork Utah. She enjoys writing, music, theatre, reading, and exploring the great outdoors. She has written for adoption.com and its affiliated websites and loves story telling in any form.

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