Q&A: How can I prepare my home for flooding from Utah’s spring runoff?

From insurance to sandbags to storm drains — learn how to check your flood risk and best protect your property from rising waters.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Debris-clogged storm drains cause the trail in Wasatch Hollow Park to disappear below water in a possible sign of more flooding to come as more snow falls in the Salt Lake Valley on Monday, March 27, 2023.

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Record-breaking snowpack in the Wasatch Mountains has state and local leaders preparing for potential flooding from spring runoff.

It’s not too early for property owners to start doing the same.

We talked to flood control experts in Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County to learn what residents can do to protect their homes and businesses when spring temperatures send water flowing downstream.

Who should be mindful of protecting their property during spring runoff?

Kade Moncur, head of Salt Lake County’s flood control efforts, said all homeowners need to be prepared to protect their property from spring runoff, especially those who live near natural waterways coming out of the Wasatch Mountains, or who live in midbench communities on the east side.

How can property owners check their risk?

Salt Lake County publishes a map on its website that uses data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to show flood risk throughout the county.

Property owners should check the map, found here, to see if their home or business lies in one of the blue-shaded areas.

The map may also be found by visiting slco.org/flood-control/, clicking on the hyperlink that says “Be flood ready!” on the pop-up window, and scrolling down to the map.

By clicking the magnifying glass in the top left corner of the map, users can search for a precise address.

Blue-shaded areas east of the Jordan River are of greater concern during spring runoff than areas west of it.

Areas in a darker shade of blue face greater risk, but areas in lighter shades of blue could still experience flooding.

What are the most important steps people can take to protect their property?

Moncur said residents should stay informed and know the flood risk they face.

“If you are in a flood zone, a regulated flood zone,” he said, “then you should consider getting flood insurance if you don’t already have some in place.”

Outside of getting flood insurance, Moncur said, property owners can use sandbags to protect their homes and businesses.

Jason Draper, flood manager for Salt Lake City, said not every flood risk is mapped, so it’s best to talk to neighbors to learn what areas near you have experienced flooding in the past.

Places where creeks go underground can pose a greater risk for flooding, Draper said, than those where the pipes are deeper under the surface, so residents should be mindful of the potential for issues.

Draper also advised keeping an inventory of belongings, especially if you have flood insurance.

Who should consider flood insurance?

(Blake Apgar | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson fills sandbags with her father, former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson, in Midvale on Friday, March 17, 2023. The county is preparing for potential flooding during runoff season in the Wasatch Mountains.

Moncur said those who live in dark-blue-shaded areas on the flood map should get flood insurance if they don’t already have it. It typically takes 30 days for a flood insurance policy to take effect, so those arrangements should be made now.

Draper, meanwhile, encouraged residents to get the insurance whether they live in a flood plain or not.

For more information, visit fema.gov/flood-insurance.

Who should use sandbags?

Those who live next to an east-side creek are most likely to benefit from sandbagging. Residents who live in a flood zone that is not immediately next to a creek could still benefit from them but face a lower risk.

Where are sandbags available?

Sandbags are available on a self-serve basis at the Salt Lake County Public Works yard at 604 W. 6960 South in Midvale.

You must bring your own work gloves and shovels to fill the bags. The county provides up to 25 bags a day for each household.

Additional sandbag locations can be found here: https://slcoem.org/sandbag-locations/

Fill bags slightly more than halfway so the sand has room to redistribute itself inside when the bag is laid flat.

Old sandbags must be thrown away in a dumpster or in bins provided specifically for cleanup, if made available by your local government.

Do not dump sandbags in rivers, creeks, streams, canals, ditches, gutters or storm drains.

How should I place sandbags to protect my property?

For those who live along a creek, sandbags can be placed along the waterway to prevent water from spilling onto the property.

Residents may also place sandbags in more targeted locations where water may enter the home, such as in front of garage doors, basement windows or doors that lead directly into a basement from outside.

Sandbags, Moncur said, should be stacked between 1 and 3 feet high.

It’s also useful, Draper said, to know the flood path that may affect your property so you can place sandbags to steer water away from your home.

“Generally, you don’t need to add much sandbagging to redirect the flood,” he said. “Most of that surface water is not very deep.”

How can residents protect their neighborhoods and other areas from flooding?

Moncur said it’s important for homeowners who live along creeks not to dump their yard debris and waste near the waterway. He said residents should also take care not to store firewood or construction materials along banks because they can be washed into streams and create congestion.

County crews are working now to clear debris from waterways.

Government crews are limited, Moncur said, and residents can help by keeping neighborhood storm drains free of debris.

Salt Lake City runs a drain adoption program that allows residents to take responsibility for keeping grates clear. The city recommends using gloves, brooms and rakes to clear debris.