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Fischer: Learn from history’s lessons and prepare for flooding

By Jen Fischer - Special to the Standard-Examiner | May 12, 2023

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Jen Fischer

Standing at 5 foot and 1 inch on a good day, I could safely say that I have never owned a pair of pants that have been too short. If the hem on a pair of pants falls above the ankle, these pants are labeled as “floods,” since they would be a good pair of pants to wear in high water without getting them wet. Like I said, this was never an issue for me. In fact, I could wear a legitimate pair of capri pants (pants that are longer than shorts, but are not as long as trousers), and they would still not be considered floods on me. Since I’m as unfamiliar with a sewing machine as I am with a needle and thread, I have had to rely on hot glue, staples and safety pins for much of my life … no flooding here. I do, however, have vivid and detailed memories of the flooding that occurred in the late spring of 1983.

It was Sunday morning, May 29, 1983, two days after the end of my junior year of high school. The mayor of Salt Lake City, Ted Wilson, puts a call into the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Gordon B. Hinkley, and strongly urges him to cancel church for the day. He follows with a call to the head of all other local churches. The response is immediate. Within minutes, State Street is lined with people of all shapes and sizes — 10,000 in total — filling sandbags and diverting water. This results in a literal river down the center of the city, which avoids millions of dollars of potential loss and destruction.

A few days later and a few miles north, in Davis County, Stone Creek pushes through the walls of an earlier mudslide and resulted in a 30-foot-high wall of water that comes crashing down on sleeping residents of a quiet Bountiful neighborhood. It was just after midnight and me and my siblings were pulled from our beds to go help. Homes were being pushed off foundations and torn in two while water, debris and mud crashed through windows and slammed vehicles around like toys. We spent the rest of the night and into the morning sandbagging. We knew these people. They were our friends, our neighbors, our classmates.

Although no one died as a direct result of the flood, many homes were damaged or lost. It had been a wet winter and a hotter-than-normal month of May that triggered all the flooding. As a result, Utah learned some lessons about preparation and weather patterns. While cities and counties have systems of water diversion in place as well as flood watches, it wouldn’t hurt for each individual homeowner to have a plan in place as well. Although some disasters cannot be diverted, there are certainly some cautions that can be taken to avoid potential flood damage as much as possible.

In many a home inspection I have witnessed, there has been a red flag out on rain gutters and downspouts. These easy-to-overlook and inexpensive devices can prevent thousands of dollars in damage. It is good to do a bi-yearly check on these systems. Gutters need to be clear from leaves and debris and wide enough to drain the water. The downspouts should be draining water far away from the home, so it doesn’t pool around the foundation and cause further damage.

If a home is below-grade or in an area with a higher water table, a sump pump is a good investment. The best type of pump will run continuously and must be checked periodically to be sure it is running. Homes at higher risk for flooding can also have a flood sensor installed that sets off an alarm when there is leaking water.

Watch for signs of water damage. Cracks in basement walls, crystalline salt deposits, or bowed or swelling walls can indicate a water problem. These problems only get worse over time. Water, left unchecked, can quickly turn into mold, foundation problems, and weakening of floor joists or piers.

A rough 75% of home inspections I have attended have the problem of negative sloping. Negative grades can cause surface water from rainfall to run toward the foundation. This is not a good thing. It is an easy fix by adding soil next to the foundation and sloping it away from the home.

While the summer of 1983 will never be forgotten, it can remain a distant memory. The community responded when we needed it and I have no doubt we will respond again. Utah is a pretty great state.

Jen Fischer is an associate broker and Realtor. She can be reached at 801-645-2134 or jen@jen-fischer.com.


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