Tom Clyde: Summer’s here, ready or not
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June 2, 2017
Summer has arrived. From a cool, wet spring to summer heat in a matter of a few days. I think it's safe to put the snow shovel away. I've been worried about flooding since mid-winter. The snowpack upstream of my house was about double the historic normal, and it all has to melt and flow through the front yard. I was bracing for the worst, and for the second time in 35 years, I bought flood insurance on the house.
It looks like I may have dodged that bullet. It's a little too early to call it safe, but I think it is. The Provo River runs through my yard. Like every other waterway in this desert state, the flow is manipulated. We don't have rivers; we have plumbing. In a normal year, water is imported from the Duchesne River through a tunnel drilled under the Uinta mountains. When the river is already at its peak flow naturally, it gets augmented by the tunnel water, and things really get wild.
This year, somebody miscalculated, and we went into the spring runoff with Deer Creek Reservoir essentially full. So there was no place to put any of the Tunnel water. The Tunnel has been closed off most of this year with the happy result that the flow at my house is smaller than it normally is, despite the huge natural runoff. The down side is that everybody below Deer Creek is getting flooded because they are frantically trying to make room in case there is a huge melt-off and they need some flood-control capacity.
The people managing those dams have to make some pretty high-stakes bets every year in terms of what to hold in the dam and when to hold it, without knowing in advance what kind of winter we will have, how fast it will melt, and when. The worst flooding I have experienced at my place was a perfectly normal snowpack. There was nothing to suggest any concern at all. And then a whole winter's worth of snow melted in about three days of record-breaking heat. So you just never know.
Like every other waterway in this desert state, the flow is manipulated. We don’t have rivers; we have plumbing.
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That's not to say that things aren't roaring this year. The rocks are rolling in the riverbed at night. The river hit what may be the peak for the season Wednesday night, and the rocks crashing in the river sounded like a bowling alley. Big trees are washing around, wreaking havoc on the normal flow. Those bark-beetle killed trees are now huge logs that get floated downstream. They make effective battering rams when they smash into irrigation controls on the canals, and also make great dams when they get twisted sideways and block the flow. If a couple of them got stuck under the highway bridge at the same time, all bets are off.
The logjams are changing the way the river flows. There are several braided channels in the area, and this year, the bulk of the flow has decided to take a different route from years past. My main irrigation diversion had a small dam made up of some washing machine-sized rocks that bumped the river into the canal. The dam was there one day and gone the next. The big rocks weren't just displaced. They are nowhere to be seen. They could be a half-mile downstream.
With all the water that has gone by, and all the snow that has melted, the gauge at Trial Lake shows that the current "snow water equivalent" is now reduced to the 35-year "normal." In other words, there is still a typical winter's worth of snow left to melt, and 22.5 inches of water in that snowpack. So it's not over yet.
A moose gave birth to her calf in a cluster of cottonwood trees just off the edge of the highway. It seemed like an unlikely spot, but I suppose when the time comes, there isn't a lot of opportunity to shop for the best location. Until the holiday weekend, it was pretty quiet. I didn't see it, but have talked to a couple of people who just happened to be driving by and got a once-in-a-lifetime chance to park and watch a moose calf born on their way to work. A pretty good excuse for being late, if you ask me.
It was a strange scene on Sunday, with people driving home from church in their Sunday finest, parked at random in the middle of the highway, women in long dresses and heels running around trying to get a picture of the moose and her calf. Who needs Yellowstone? She hung out in the trees for a few days, but the Memorial Day moose-jam got too much for her, and they have moved to a more secluded place. Summer can be like that around here.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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