More Dogs on Main
May 27, 2011
Well, we’re all still here. The Rapture that was supposed to have happened last weekend fizzled. Apparently the weather is so bad that not even Jesus will come to Summit County until things improve. Harold Camping, the radio preacher who made the prediction, reported that he was "flabbergasted" that it didn’t happen on schedule. He’s done some recalculating and concluded that we’re on rain delay until October 21. So I guess I’ve got to get busy fixing my fences, cleaning the irrigation ditches, and preparing for the flood.
Aside from the cold, wet spring, there is a palpable anxiety about flooding in my neighborhood. My house is right on the Provo River. The access road is a dike built in the 1950s as part of the Deer Creek Reservoir project. They import water from the Duchesne River into the Provo through a tunnel drilled under the Uintas. To manage that increased flow, the dike was built on one side of the river and, if everything works according to plan, the excess water floods out into open fields on the other side, away from the buildings.
But not much is going according to plan this year. It’s practically June 1, and so far there has been no significant snowmelt up high. At Trial Lake, there are still 8 feet of snow holding 50 inches of water that has to flow downstream. There won’t be any Duchesne water imported this year, which will help. But even without that, the predictions are for the river flow past my house to be about 30 percent higher than normal.
Over in Oakley, a big part of the Weber River’s high flows have historically been shunted off through the Weber-Provo Canal and put into Deer Creek Reservoir. That won’t happen this year because Deer Creek is already full. So the high flow on the Weber will be significantly higher than people are used to. Rockport and Echo might be able to absorb some of the peak downstream, but if you are between Oakley and Rockport, things are going to be interesting.
With weeks, or even months, of advance warning, it’s still hard to know how to prepare for it. The dike has held through every major flood event for nearly 60 years, including when the dam on Trail Lake broke in 1986. So logic says the house is protected, and other than damage to the farm, there’s nothing to be concerned about. But upstream, for 10 miles or so, the river is still choked with huge snags of tree trunks and debris left over from the Trial Lake dam breach. It’s been 25 years, and the stuff is still just sitting there, waiting for a flow big enough to float it loose. If that stuff gets moving, it could snag under the highway bridge, and all bets are off.
For the first time in 27 years, I bought flood insurance. Yesterday, based on a new forecast of maximum flows, I took the time to go through the house and update the insurance photos of the contents, just in case my worldly goods are floating in Jordanelle Reservoir a month from now.
Recommended Stories For You
So I try to figure out the best plan for dealing with it. My best calculation is that there will either be no damage at all the dike will hold, the bridge won’t get choked by a bunch of tree trunks and turn into a dam, and life will go on. Or not. It wouldn’t take much for something really catastrophic to happen. There really isn’t a middle-ground scenario. It’s dry or dunk. I can’t see a condition that results in merely "damp."
Friends and family have called and offered to help sandbag, but when the river starts throwing boulders the size of Mini Coopers around (which it does pretty regularly at high flow), a row of sandbags in front of the garage door isn’t going to accomplish much. This isn’t slow-moving Mississippi River "rising" water. If the Provo tops the dike, it is hydraulic mining.
Nobody has been able to offer any useful advice on how to attach pontoons to the house.
So we all are just watching and waiting. Oakley and Woodland are both pretty nervous places these days. UDOT and the county are checking the bridges frequently. Chevron Oil has a big crew out here working on emergency procedures where the pipeline crosses the river. By next week, I’ll probably be parking the car on higher ground.
The really strange thing is that, at the same time I’m grinding my teeth worrying about flooding, I’m spending those few rain-free hours trying to get the irrigation system on the farm ready to go. We live in a desert, after all.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column for nearly 25 years.