SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — With historic snowfall seen this winter, many Utahns are sharing memories from 40 years ago when the floods of 1983 swept through the state — bringing together communities and reimagining our local infrastructure.
It all started in the winter of 1982-1983 when Utah experienced what felt like never-ending rainfall and record-high levels of seasonal snowpack. Though, as the mountain snow quickly melted with temperatures in the 90s, the Memorial Day weekend would become an unforgettable turning point for our state.
In anticipation of this snowmelt, the counties began stocking up on sandbags, state water managers lowered reservoirs to ease flood concerns, and residents prepared for the worst.
However, this preparation would not be enough as rivers and creeks suddenly filled past their limit, and water levels caused approximately $621 million in damages to local homes and businesses — that would equate to $1.87 billion adjusted for inflation since 1983.
Within a day, tens of thousands of volunteers from the community would gather in Salt Lake City to fill and distribute about a million sandbags and form a momentous feat of labor — fittingly called the “State Street River.”
This man-made waterway was nearly two feet deep and spanned over 13 city blocks from the Utah State Capitol. Diversions at 800 South and 1300 South were also created by city engineers to release water from the State Street River and allow it space to drain.
Bridges were constructed over the river for commuters — pedestrians and vehicles alike — so that downtown routines could continue through the historic flood totals.
Even recreation wasn’t out of the question for residents during the flood, as State Street River saw many opportunistic kayakers and fishermen along the way making the most of this urban channel.
After almost two weeks of steady flows down State Street, the water levels eventually receded, with soggy sandbags removed and roadways slowly cleared of debris.
As the damage was assessed, county voters would approve a $33 million bond to make repairs and upgrades, which included widening creek beds, putting in culverts, and making storm drains larger. Additionally, the North Temple aqueduct was reconstructed to help prevent future flooding downtown.
Overall, these projects took up to three years to complete but would become worthwhile in years to follow as even greater snowpacks occurred.
Now, as the record-breaking snow totals of 2023 begin to melt, Utah looks ahead with anticipation and memories of what happened here 40 years ago.