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Infrastructure overwhelmed by flooding: Damage from Pack Creek flood exposes inadequate stormwater control

  • Updated
  • 4 min to read

Andrea and Randy French were on vacation when they started getting texts from their neighbors about flooding in their subdivision. The couple came home to find tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage from 43 inches of water that had backed up against a wall abuting their back yard.

“It’s just a sick feeling, to come home and look at this,” Andrea French said of the mess in her yard.

The July 25 Pack Creek flash flood brought a huge surge of muddy, ashy water and debris down the Pack Creek drainage. Both county and private property were heavily damaged, particularly in the area around Stocks Drive.

Andrea French and her husband bought their home in the Spanish Valley Estates subdivision in 1999. She said the yard was just tumbleweeds when they arrived; over the past 20 years they’ve landscaped, built patio areas, and planted flowers and cultivated mature shrubs.

Now it’s all coated with a layer of dried mud; in the lowest part of the lot, furthest from the house, the mud is caked several inches thick. The water put so much pressure on the concrete block wall that it broke apart, and the water crashed through the gap into an empty field on the neighboring property. Other neighbors had mud build up on their lawns, broken fences, and other damages.

County Commission Administrator Chris Baird provided the Moab Sun News with a copy of an engineer-approved drainage plan adopted by the subdivision developer and approved by the county in 1995.

According to the plan, each property owner was to build a concrete wall in a low corner of their lot to provide for storm water retention. Andrea French said no one told them about this drainage plan when they bought their home, and as far as she knows, no one in the neighborhood has built the infrastructure described in the plan. (The concrete wall that broke during the flood did not conform to the drainage plan specifications.)

Some property owners in the neighborhood have come up with their own solutions to deal with occasional flooding, like building walls or berms. Any flood control measures other than those in the engineer-approved plan are illegal, Baird noted, unless they’ve been reviewed and permitted by the county floodplain manager.

Baird said it’s the responsibility of the subdivion’s homeowners’ association to ensure that all properties in the subdivision are in compliance. French said there is no homeowners’ association in Spanish Valley Estates; that’s also against county land use code, Baird said.

“It sounds like the county needs to focus some code enforcement resources on checking into the status of HOAs and the status of the covenants they are responsible for,” Baird said in an email to the Moab Sun News in response to this information.

The county has been extremely busy repairing and cleaning up after multiple flooding events in July and early August and preparing for more storms in the forecast. They’re removing debris from floodways, and in the Spanish Valley Estates neighborhood, street cleaners have been removing dirt from the roads. The county road department will pick up and dispose of flood debris from homes if it’s gathered and staged on the edge of properties.

On Stocks Drive, a culvert was so damaged by the flood that it had to be removed and the road will remain closed likely until winter. County staff are looking into securing grant funds to help design infrastructure to accommodate increased flood flows expected to be caused by the Pack Creek burn scar, possibly including upgrades to the floodway under Stocks Drive.

“This may include large upstream infrastructure as well as channel alterations all along Pack Creek,” reads a letter from the county floodplain administrator, Bill Hulse, to property owners affected by the Pack Creek flood this summer, discussing the potential funding. “This is a longer term project, and construction is unlikely to occur in 2021.”

Funding may be available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s “Building Resilient Infrastructure Communities” grant, which provides federal funding to local communities specifically for planning and mitigation of risks and hazards associated with climate change. The county is also working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to evaluate infrastructure.

These potential infrastructure updates may provide relief in the future, but in the meantime, more flooding is possible this summer.

The US Geological Survey recently installed a flood warning gage on a bridge over the Pack Creek drainage on the Pack Creek Road, between the Pack Creek subdivision and residential areas in Spanish Valley. This gage is the highest USGS gage in the drainage.

USGS Moab Field Office Chief Chris Wilkowske said that while the discharge values the gage will report are only estimates, the National Weather Service in Grand Junction will be monitoring the data and can use it in evaluating flood danger and issuing flood warnings. The gage will be in place at least through the rainy season, until November. Data from the gage is publicly available at https://on.doi.gov/3yYi4zO

Grand county is working with property owners to construct temporary flood control improvements to keep stormwater in the floodway.

“Over the years, many property owners have created berms or filled in areas along the creek to protect their property and have inadvertently caused damage to their neighbors’ property,” reads the county letter to property owners. “Moving forward, we need to ensure this doesn’t continue happening.”

Andrea French said that for years, she and her husband have been asking the county to replace the culvert under Stocks Drive with a bridge to allow unobstructed water flow during floods. The culvert gets clogged with debris, she said, and that’s what’s caused flooding in the neighborhood every few years, though she said she’s never seen it flood as bad as it did last month.

A shed on the Frenches’ property filled with water and mud, soaking the bottom three feet of drywall as well as tools, furniture, appliances, and fitness equipment that were inside. The water deformed the shed’s roll-up metal door when it eventually pushed its way out. A $40,000 trailer floated away from its parking spot in the driveway and onto the lawn; the electrical system was soaked and saturated with silt, effectively totaling the vehicle. Large planters full of annual flowers had floated away—one of them is still missing.

Estimates for mud removal and clean-up and repair of the shop total in the tens of thousands, Andrea French said.

“We were kind of glad we weren’t home,” said French of the day of the flooding, “because we would have freaked out.”