Heavy rains lead to flooding in Highland neighborhood as community leaders eye weeks ahead

Mar 15, 2023, 10:23 PM | Updated: Apr 17, 2023, 4:18 pm

HIGHLAND, Utah — Crews worked most of the day Wednesday to place sandbags and divert flood waters in one neighborhood after heavy rains melted snow and sent it gushing into a basement and onto two neighboring properties.

“All the water was coming toward a couple of homes here,” Highland city administrator Erin Wells said as she stood next to one of the properties on Ponce De Leon Drive. “We’ve quickly tried to divert the water away from the homes and got a lot of volunteers out here, got our crews out here to get sandbags and new channels dug.”

Summer Anderson said flood waters started streaming into her family’s basement Tuesday.

“My brother woke up and there was just tons of water filled up in his room,” Anderson told KSL TV. “It’s everywhere.”

Fans were still working overtime to dry out the basement which still had patches of standing water as of Wednesday evening.

“We had to build this whole pathway out, like there’s just so many people here, these fans non-stop—like we can’t fall asleep,” Anderson said. “It’s crazy. My house looks like a construction site.”

Wells acknowledged the city was to some degree caught by surprise by the flooding high on the Highland bench.

“We do have a flooding prevention plan but honestly the geography of Highland—we weren’t expecting this until about mid-April,” Wells said. “It did catch us a bit earlier than we were anticipating and so this is the first one and we’ve got plans in place to help prevent it as we move forward in the season.”

The neighborhood flooding issue came as leaders from Highland, American Fork, the U.S. Forest Service, Utah Department of Transportation, Utah County Sheriff’s Office and other entities met Wednesday afternoon to discuss preparations for runoff out of American Fork Canyon.

“Even if it stops snowing today, we have 200 percent of our peak snowpack up there,” American Fork Irrigation president and water master Ernie John said during an interview. “We’ve got to plan for the worst and hope for the best.”

John said the worst-case scenario would be continuing to add snow at higher elevations until June 1 and then immediately transitioning to dry conditions and 90 degree temperatures, while a “good case scenario” would entail a “nice, cool spring” until June.

Regardless, he said surrounding communities and responsible agencies aimed to be prepared.

“We’re going to pre-position equipment in various spots along the river,” he said. “Once we get to high water, we will man points from the mouth of American Fork Canyon on down, 24-7.”

He said crews also had to prioritize eliminating multiple logjams over the next 4 to 6 weeks.

“We’ve got some big logjams up American Fork Canyon that we’ve got to deal with so we’re pooling all the agencies together to see what the best way is to deal with them,” John said. “I’m talking half-the-size-of-a-home-sized logjams. That’s big.”

High up on the hillside, the Andersons said they didn’t expect runoff flooding to affect their home.

They expressed gratitude to all the workers and volunteers who helped, while saying they hoped they would be finished with flooding around their property.

“Who thinks this would happen?” Anderson said. “Hopefully we’re done.”

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Heavy rains lead to flooding in Highland neighborhood as community leaders eye weeks ahead