By Mike Dunn 

Practice makes perfect: Saratoga survives another flood

Homeland Security credits experience and team consistency


Mike Dunn

Members of the University of Wyoming football team help build a barrier in Saratoga Friday. More than 70 volunteers from UW arrived in Saratoga to help with the flood effort.

As the river starts to recede under flood stage, Saratoga and Carbon County communities survived its second 100-year flood in four years this past week, despite water levels hitting record highs on the North Platte.

Even with 10.5-foot river flows, many in Saratoga said they felt safer this year than they had in previous years.

Rob Cleveland with Homeland Security's Bravo Team had a simple explanation for this year's success: they were more prepared.

Cleveland said his team had stayed relatively the same since the 2011 floods, which played a major role their planning this year.

"We knew a little history of the town," Cleveland said about the success of the flood efforts this year. "We knew where the areas were that were problematic so we could go get those first, identify those [areas] and start working on them right away."

The record high water levels were caused by a combination of rapid snowmelt in higher elevations, due to warm temperatures and rain events in the Platte Valley and mountain ranges.

Carbon County Emergency Management Coordinator John Zeiger said one of the advantages he had was taking precautionary steps. He said he called in the initial assessment Team Bravo, following the rain event on May 23.

By May 25, 24 Honor Farm inmates and the 50 National Guard members were in Saratoga to fill and toss sandbags before levels reached moderate flooding stage. By May 28, at the North Platte River's Highest levels, additional military personnel and inmate crews were brought into Saratoga.

Crews were assisted by volunteers from Saratoga and around the region. Zeiger said between the military, inmate crews and volunteers, there were more than 200 people assisting with the flood effort on Thursday.

From May 24 to May 31, 80,000 sandbags were placed on the ground in Saratoga and another 1,300 were placed in Elk Mountain.

"Most of our efforts were geared towards Saratoga and the Platte River," Cleveland said.

The Army Corp of Engineers contributes to the flood efforts as well. Two members of The Corp of Engineers Omaha District arrived in Saratoga on May 27. Captain Higgins of the Wyoming National Guard said their arrival "totally changed their battle-plan." The Corp identified key areas that posed a flooding threat throughout town, including the hot pool parking lot and the area north of the Hwy 130 bridge; across from Deer Haven Mobile Home Park.

"We did not have them here in 2011, and so they came in with some more expertise," Cleveland said of the Army Corp of Engineers. "[They gave us] the ability to do some mapping of the on-site survey, and could tell us where we need to build walls, or where we needed to enforce the walls or where we didn't need to overbuild walls."

Even with the water dipping down to manageable heights, crews are already preparing for the next flood. There are several thousand sandbags already filled and on palates.

Because sandbags are designed to deteriorate over time, Cleveland suggests people remove or incorporate the sandbags into their property. He suggested using the bags to build berms or using the sand for landscaping projects.

"There are a lot of creative things you can do with the sand," he said.

As of Saturday, Cleveland said Saratoga will continue to experience a period of high water for about a month. A rain-on-snow event could still increase water levels at a rapid rate. Though there is a very low chance water levels will increase back to major flooding stage, Cleveland suggests people pay attention and be aware of the flows.


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