More Dogs on Main Street
May 23, 2008
What a wild week. It was in the 80s on Monday and Tuesday, and I woke up to six inches of snow on Thursday. Mother Nature has gone bipolar on us and is apparently off her meds. The big excitement out in Woodland, where there normally isn’t any excitement, big or small, is the Provo River. To watch the TV news coverage, you would think the situation was just one step removed from Hurricane Katrina. The apocalypse is upon us.
In reality, this is a pretty typical spring runoff for a big winter. I’ve seen worse. The problem is that we have had a decade of sub-par winters now, and people have forgotten what the real deal looks like.
One difference is the amount of lumber accumulated in the river. Every year, there are a lot of trees that fall into the river. The banks erode and, starting way up in the Uintas and all the way down through town, huge trees get toppled into the river. The past few years there hasn’t been enough flow to float them, so they sat where they fell.
This year, they are on the move. The other night I raced a 100-foot lodgepole pine, complete with the root ball, down the river. It was floating. I was on the tractor on the road along the riverbank. I couldn’t keep up. The tree had to be moving 15 to 20 miles an hour. When that crashes into the bank, or a bridge, it’s going to leave a mark.
There have been dozens, maybe hundreds, of trees shooting past my house. For the most part, they are going solo. But every now and then they will get tangled together in a pile that spells trouble. A few of them snagging under the highway bridge would take it out. At night the rocks are rolling. The peak flow hits my house at about 2 a.m. Most years there are a few loud "clunks" in the night as big rocks crash around. The sounds are distinct and separate. This year, it has been an almost constant sound as more of the big rocks are thrown around by the current. It sounds like a bowling alley.
The other morning I walked out the front door on my way to Salt Lake. It was a rainy day, and seemed like a reasonable time to make a parts run for some broken farm equipment. KSL TV was setting up a live remote in the driveway. The breathless reporter wanted to know where there were homes being flooded. I didn’t know of any, though there was a spot down the street where some yards had water flowing across them and a garage was taking on a few inches. Everybody’s crawl space is wet, but that’s hardly news. The levee wasn’t about to break or anything. She was disappointed, but ended up making a story of it anyway.
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The street I live on is a one-lane dirt road. There are six houses on it, and only two of them are full timers. Heavy traffic is seeing the one neighbor drive by. He works in Orem and leaves very early in the morning, so I seldom see or hear him go by. Wednesday, we had traffic. At one point Channels 2 and 5 were in a kind of standoff to see who would back up so the other could get out to alert the nation that crawl spaces were swamped on Bull Moose Road. (The news people are all in unmarked cars these days, so you would never guess they were TV news people, aside from the red pizza pan antenna sticking out the roof.) Neither was willing to yield.
Then the Bureau of Reclamation showed up with a huge front-end loader and a fleet of dump trucks. A culvert that crosses through the levee had rotted out (after only 50 years) and was allowing water from the river into the neighborhood. It was the kind of inconvenience that had the potential to become more serious if left alone. They were going to dump a bunch of dirt on the end of it to cork it off. Another news truck sped down the street, now a churned mud pit.
"Where are the houses being destroyed," the driver asked me.
He slammed it into reverse and left. The sense of disappointment was palpable.
I don’t mean to say everything has been business as usual. Crews from UDOT and Summit County have been busy. The river rearranges itself in a big runoff, and places that didn’t flood last time are getting hit this time. There are a couple of places where there was water up on the highway, and one spot where the current was undercutting the road, which is already dangerously narrow. Culverts on tributary streams have gotten plugged in a place or two, sending water where it isn’t supposed to go. There are some low bridges that are pretty vulnerable.
One of the TV reporters, a confessed flatlander, wondered if I was scared by it all. Was I packed and ready to run for my life? I tried to explain that this happens almost every spring, and that you don’t live in a location like this if you aren’t absolutely fascinated by the power of nature. Awed, yes, but not frightened. There is a difference. I sit on the porch and watch the show.
I was feeling pretty good about the whole situation until I heard that President Bush is coming to visit Park City. He’s coming to raise some cash for the Republicans so they can continue their policies of destruction. Utah is probably the only state in the union where Bush can still draw a receptive crowd. After shaking down the bigwigs in Salt Lake, he is headed up our way for dinner at Mitt’s house.
Now I’m worried. We all know that wherever Bush shows up, things turn to crap in a hurry. Please, stay away from Woodland. We’ve got our hands full without you.
Tom Clyde served as Park City attorney in the 1980s and is the author of "More Dogs On Main Street." He has been a columnist at The Park Record for nearly 20 years.