Little Cottonwood Canyon mudslides subside; county crews clearing debris

May 8, 2023, 5:12 PM | Updated: 7:00 pm

SALT LAKE COUNTY, UtahThe mudslides that closed Little Cottonwood Canyon last week have subsided, for now. The road is open and the Utah Department of Transportation warns motorists traveling in the canyon to stay alert for rapid changes.  

Click here for all current and upcoming forecasts on Utah’s flooding and resources to protect your home.

“Who knows what Mother Nature is going to give us? So we just kind of took some precautions,” said Shawn Wright, a UDOT roadway operations manager.  

Traffic is flowing in Little Cottonwood Canyon after mudslides shut the road last Tuesday and Friday. Cooler weather slowed the snowmelt at high elevation, giving the mud a chance to dry out.

Mudslide buries roadway in Little Cottonwood Canyon during closure

“The water flow slowed down,” Wright said. “I’m sure once it warms up, the flow will pick back up again. Who knows? It might come down a little more. It might be done.“

UDOT had a spotter keeping an eye on the slides during the weekend, and they’re still on the lookout for new slide activity.

At the same time, Salt Lake County flood control crews cleared debris out of the creek channel and stabilized it.

“This is really the first opportunity they’ve had to really get up high, in some cases, and do some serious work,” said Clint Mecham, a Unified Fire Authority division chief and director of Salt Lake County Emergency Management. 

Due to the large number of avalanches this winter, there’s a lot more debris in the channel than they would normally expect.

“The more avalanches we have, the more debris that it brings out,” Wright said.

“Anytime we get heavy snowpack, there is that natural trimming of trees, branches, etc. If the snowpack is heavy enough, it will take the whole tree, instead of just branches,” Mecham said. 

Salt Lake County flood control crews clear heavy debris out of Little Cottonwood Creek on May 8, 2023. (Jed Boal/KSL TV) Salt Lake County flood control crews clear heavy debris out of Little Cottonwood Creek on May 8, 2023. (Jed Boal/KSL TV)

Mecham said Emigration Creek has peaked and is running out of snow, although they are still watching it. That creek caused neighborhood flooding two weeks ago when the drainage system failed and water flowed out of its main channel and into the neighborhood.

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City Creek and Millcreek are the next two county creeks where they expect high flows but no flooding if the weather continues to cooperate.  

“We just had a meeting earlier today, and it looks like the predicted flows will stay below that flood stage for those two creeks, but they will be flowing high,” Mecham said. 

People driving in Little Cottonwood Canyon will notice variable message signs alerting them to the work that’s going on, and also the potential for mudslides.

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Little Cottonwood Canyon mudslides subside; county crews clearing debris