10 years later: Santa Clara dam break prepared community for future floods

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SANTA CLARA — It takes time and quality to get a reputation for a cookie, something Liisa Frei is proud of.

“We make them right in our back room in a tiny little bakery. They’re just the best,” Frei said with a laugh.

She has owned Dutchman’s Market in Santa Clara for more than 30 years. That’s enough time for even out-of-staters to know about the gooey goodness inside.

“I can always tell. I’m like, are you from out of town? ‘Yeah. We came to find your cookies,'” she said with another laugh.

For as busy as she is now, 10 years ago Frei wasn’t sure she was going to keep the store. Not after the dam just behind her store broke.

“Had I known how long it would take or how hard it would be, we might’ve said, yeah, we’re not going to be able to do it,” Frei said.

Three and a quarter inches of rain fell in just a few hours in the Santa Clara area, which is worth about three months of rain. All the water caused the dam to break.

The rushing water flooded more than 30 homes and a dozen businesses in only a few minutes. Dutchman’s Market was one of the first places hit.

“The walls had been blown out, you know? Things that were in here were 2 miles down the river,” Frei said.

Since that day, and because of other floods, Washington County and surrounding cities and towns have done millions of dollars of work to prepare for future flooding.

“Particularly along the Virgin River and the Santa Clara River,” said Ron Whitehead, director of public works for Washington County. “It’s not real visible now. There’s enough vegetation growing up around it and in it that it’s hard to see.”

Rock walls have made riverbanks stronger, drainages have been cleared, as well as a concrete lining to help with flows. The Santa Clara dam was also rebuilt and is ready for the next round of historic rain.

“We need the rain, so everybody wants the rain, but you still worry about, don’t give us too much right now,” Whitehead said.

Frei doesn’t miss that day. However, what she remembers the most is how it seemed like everyone pitched in to help each other.

She jokes that maybe it was the cookies people couldn’t be without.

“All in all, it’s good, but I don’t want to do it again, don’t get me wrong. Honestly, we wouldn’t be here without the community.”

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