Wasatch Hollow Preserve still needs more than $600K in flooding repairs

The parking lot, sidewalks, pavilion and sod remain damaged.

(The Salt Lake Tribune) Wasatch Hollow Preserve on July 29, left, and on March 30, right, when Emigration Creek flooded the park, which serves as a detention basin.

After Salt Lake City’s Wasatch Hollow area was flooded in April, emergency efforts mostly prevented damage to homes. But Wasatch Hollow Preserve is still waiting on hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs.

The park is currently open with functional trails, but the parking lot, pavilion and sidewalk remain damaged, along with sod that’s in poor shape, said Kade Moncour, director of Salt Lake County Flood Control.

“You can just see that the park itself sustained a little bit of something that doesn’t typically happen,” Moncour said.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Damaged sidewalks, asphalt, and sod throughout Wasatch Hollow Preserve still need repairs, Saturday, July 29, 2023.

Repairs are roughly estimated to cost between $600,000 and $750,000, and they won’t be completed until at least fall, Toby Hazelbaker, director of the Salt Lake City Parks Division, said. The park’s grass also isn’t expected to fully recover until spring 2024.

“We hope this comes in under a million dollars worth of repairs,” Hazelbaker said.

Debris that exacerbated flooding belonged to county

Wasatch Hollow Preserve, in addition to being a recreation area, is a flood detention basin that can temporarily fill up with water to manage runoff and prevent flooding elsewhere.

But runoff from Utah’s record-breaking snowpack — exacerbated by a several-hundred-pound metal plate that clogged the flood control system — overwhelmed the basin. That prompted Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall to sign an emergency order late April 12 and call for volunteers to help fill sandbags near 1700 East and 1700 South to mitigate damage.

The metal plate belonged to the county, and it was part of the flood control system, Moncour said. Its function was to prevent concrete erosion should the nearest Salt Lake County flood control facility fail.

But on April 15, after pumping out enough water, Moncour said crews were able to see the plate was clogging the system because it wasn’t in the right position.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People work to protect homes into the night along 1700 South in Salt Lake City from the rising flow of Emigration Creek through Wasatch Hollow Park on Wednesday, April 12, 2023.

It would’ve taken lots of “effort and intention” to move the metal plate into that position, Moncour said. There’s no saying for sure, but he suspects someone flipped the plate when water levels were lower in late 2022 to block the flow and create a “palace of water” to play around in. The director of Salt Lake City’s Department of Public Utilities also previously attributed the blockage to vandalism.

Even if Flood Control had discovered the clog in the system sooner, flooding still would’ve been a concern, Moncour said.

“I think there’s potential that it would have been similar, but maybe not as much overflow that we saw at peak times,” he said.

Repairs will take time, officials say

Property damage was limited to a few homes. There was also some erosion damage along 1700 South and 1500 East, which was quickly repaired.

“I think the city and county and volunteer effort came through — they showed the force of the neighborhood to take action and keep things from being a lot worse,” said Jesse Stewart, deputy director of the city’s Public Utilities Department and a resident of Wasatch Hollow.

Joe Dratter, another resident in the area, said his neighbor saw floodwater pool into his basement. Dratter had high amounts of water flow into his backyard but none into his house. He said the response was a “pretty impressive ordeal.”

“We were really worried throughout the day, because it was just the city setting up sandbags at first,” he said. “There was like maybe one to two layers that the city had gotten up all day, and then they called in anybody who could help out, and there was a line of people just handing sandbags.”

At the park, two trees later died because of damage to the irrigation system during the initial flooding, when response vehicles drove over it. The irrigation system has since been repaired, Hazelbaker said, adding “things are greening up, but it’s a battle this time of year.”

Hazelbaker advised that continued repairs will take time, in part because crews first needed to make sure it wouldn’t flood again, then needed to assess the damage and line up funding to address it.

He added it’s wasteful to rush asphalt and sidewalk repairs before the park’s greenery has recovered, because repair vehicles could further damage the ground that’s been reseeded.

Though signs of flooding are still visible at the park, it could have been much worse, officials say. Removing the plate that was blocking the flood control system, along with steady spring weather, helped prevent further flooding.

Over the years, improvements have also been made to local flood control infrastructure, officials said, including maintenance work in storm drains and creek beds; added reservoirs; and upgrades for drainage ditches, debris ditches and detention basins.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Visitors to Wasatch Hollow Preserve pass by a debris pile, Saturday, July 29, 2023.