On June 19, 2018, Gov. Gary R. Herbert approved the State of Utah’s plan to use $35 million in funds from the VW settlement to purchase cleaner government-owned trucks and buses and expand electrical charging resources.
The settlement was reached after it was discovered that Volkswagen had violated the Clean Air Act by installing software that rigged results on vehicle emissions testing. Gov. Herbert designated the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) as the lead agency to administer these funds. Settlement funding will be used to offset the nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from the 7,000 VW, Audi, and Porsche vehicles in Utah affected by VW’s violations.
The VW settlement included a prescribed list of categories for NOx mitigation projects. DEQ crafted an Environmental Mitigation Plan (EMP) using these guidelines, input from the public, and recommendations from an advisory committee. The plan focuses the $35 million settlement funds on upgrades to government-owned diesel truck and bus fleets as well as the expansion of electric-vehicle (EV) charging equipment.
“The projects we have selected will make the biggest impact on our air quality at the lowest cost, allowing Utah to maximize the air-quality benefits of this settlement,” says DEQ Executive Director Alan Matheson. “By targeting government-owned fleets, taxpayers receive a double benefit.”
Learn more about the VW Settlement on DEQ’s VW website. See the full press release here.
Cyanobacteria occur naturally. When stagnant, nutrient-rich water warms up in the summer, it becomes the ideal breeding ground for these organisms—commonly known as blue-green algae. Under these circumstances, the bacteria can reproduce at alarming rates, overwhelm the water body and begin to produce dangerous toxins that can affect digestive organs and the nervous system—becoming a harmful algal bloom (HAB). Even in the absence of these toxins, the cyanobacteria can cause human-health concerns like gastrointestinal distress and skin irritation.
The scientists at the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) have been tasked with devising better and more effective techniques to detect and mitigate the risks to blooms. The Utah State Legislature is also helping out with funding for HAB monitoring and response.
Below are some of the ways that DEQ monitors these blooms.
One of three data buoys in Utah Lake
Sonde is a French word for instrument or probe. Real-time water-quality logging sondes are deployed on buoys in Utah Lake, Scofield Reservoir and Deer Creek Reservoir. The data from these instruments help the water quality scientists at DEQ monitor the signals if a cyanobacteria bloom is growing. DEQ monitors, maintains and calibrates these instruments. The public can view the data provided by these sondes here.
The Cyanobacteria Assessment Network (CyAN) is a multi-agency project that harnesses resources from NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to process images to detect HABs from satellites. Using powerful algorithms, the images are processed to measure differences in the color spectrum to identify the severity and scope of a HAB. As the program is refined, scientists are hoping to deploy this technology around the state to more quickly spot HABS before they affect humans and livestock.
Needless to say, immediate detection of toxins is one of the most important data elements points in helping local health departments and other response agencies determine whether appropriate precautions should take place for recreation, livestock watering, and irrigation. In an effort to ensure public safety, samples from HABs are now being tested with rapid-test strips. These strips detect the presence of cyanotoxins and provide local health departments and stakeholders with these crucial pieces of information.
Utah Water Watch
Utah Water Watch (UWW) is a water quality education and data collection program that seeks to increase awareness about the importance of water quality and promote stewardship of Utah’s aquatic resources. Its goal is to empower citizens to learn and share knowledge about their local watersheds and practice good stewardship. Data collected are shared in a public database and with local water managers. Utah Water Watch volunteers are trained to monitor for, sample and analyze potential harmful algal blooms. UWW is a free program and is open to volunteers of all ages. Volunteers learn more about water quality and help protect lakes and streams in Utah.
bloomWatch Mobile App
The bloomWatch mobile app is a free for IOS and Android users. It was developed to help track and document the occurrence of harmful algal blooms.
When app users come across a potential HAB, they can upload the location and a photo to water quality managers, and public health officials. The app effectively harnesses crowd-sourced data to track and manage water resources that the public depends on for potable water and recreation.
If you are a pilot and routinely fly over some of Utah’s at-risk waterbodies for HABs, you could provide critical data to DEQ. Pilots of small fixed-wing aircraft will be outfitted with a geospatial camera to collect aerial imagery over at-risk waterbodies. These images can be quickly processed to detect high concentrations of cyanobacteria at a much quicker speed and better resolution than satellite imagery. Please contact DEQ if you are interested to learn more.
As Utah and the rest of the country continue to deal with algal blooms, accurate and precise data are key to effectively safeguarding our water quality, protecting human health and supporting the state and local agencies addressing HABs.
The Utah County Health Department (UCHD) is warning the public to stay out of Provo Bay after DEQ sampling showed toxin and cyanobacteria levels that exceeded health-based thresholds. UCHD is posting warning signs at Swede Sportsman Access near Provo Bay to warn people about recreating in the Bay due to the presence of potentially harmful algal blooms.
Harmful algal bloom at the Swede Sportsman Access on Provo Bay
DEQ water-quality crews responded on June 6, 2018, to a report of an algal bloom in Provo Bay and collected five samples at various locations at and around the Swede Sportsman Access. Sample results detected the presence of two cyanotoxins, anatoxin-a and microcystin, with one sample at the Swede Sportsman Access (5.5 micrograms per liter (ug/L) microcystin) exceeding the Utah Department of Health/ Utah Department of Environmental Quality health-based threshold for recreational waters. All three samples sent to the lab for cell-count concentrations exceeded the health-based threshold, with cell counts ranging from approximately 400,000 cells per milliliter (cells/ml) to more than 21 million cells/ml. The cell count is an indication of harmful levels of cyanobacteria.
Division of Water Quality (DWQ) crews will continue to collect additional samples around the lake beginning June 11, 2018.
Although blue-green algae are a natural part of many freshwater ecosystems, under the right conditions they can proliferate rapidly. High levels of nutrients in the water, combined with warm temperatures, abundant sunlight, and calm water, can promote growth, resulting in extensive blooms. These blooms consist of cyanobacteria (often referred to as blue-green algae), a type of bacteria that poses risks to humans, wildlife, domestic animals and fish. Symptoms of exposure include headache, fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, and sometimes allergic- like reactions from skin contact.
For concerns about possible human exposure, call the Utah Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222.
DEQ will continue to provide updated information at habs.utah.gov. View the full news release here.
Summer is one of the best times to be outside in Utah. Helping protect the state’s unique environment can be easy and rewarding. Photo courtesy of Kelly Chipman
Four ways to play it safe this summer. Click for a larger image.
By Donna Kemp Spangler
Summer is a time to play outdoors. For fun-seekers there’s plenty of options: River-rafting the Green River, backpacking Mount Timpanogos, fishing at Deer Creek Reservoir or boating in Lake Powell – to name a few.
For scientists at the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, summer is a time for field work: Testing for water pollution, cleaning up contaminated lands, or monitoring the air for ozone levels. And while it might not sound as fun as water skiing or rock climbing, we all have to do our part to make our outdoor fun time a healthy time.
Here are some tips to keep Utah’s environment safe and fun:
What You Can Do: In most cases, you can still enjoy boating and fishing but heed the warning signs when posted: Keep pets away, don’t ingest the water, clean any fish caught and properly dispose of the entrails. And when it comes to your own back yard, avoid over-fertilizing to make sure you’re not contributing to algae blooms from runoff.
What You Can Do: Reduce use of chemicals and properly dispose of waste. Reduce, reuse, recycle is a good mantra to practice. If you see litter, pick it up and dispose it properly.
Conserve water: The Division of Drinking Water (DDW) is committed to ensuring we all have reliable, clean and adequate drinking water. The staff at DDW does this by inspecting the 1,036 active drinking water systems throughout the state so that no contaminates reach our tap. But we shouldn’t take our water for granted. We do have limited supply.
What You Can Do:Use water wisely. For landscaping, water lawns early in the morning or evening when temperatures are cooler, use water-resistant timers or plant low-water and drought-tolerant foliage. When you turn on your sprinkler systems make sure your backflow protection devices are turned on so you don’t contaminate the water. Fix leaky faucets or use low-flow toilets and wait to run the dishwasher or washing machine when it is full.
Clean air: The Division of Air Quality meteorologists keep tabs on the weather and pollution levels to forecast the air quality conditions for 12 counties across the state. Ozone rears its ugly head during the summer. A typical hot summer day when the air is stagnant can be the perfect recipe for ozone: vehicle exhaust, gas-powered lawn equipment, and idling engines combine with sunlight and heat to cook up an unhealthy brew.
What You Can Do: Check the air quality forecast at airquality.utah.gov and plan ahead. Division of Air Quality calls “air action” days before the ozone reaches unhealthy levels. What that means is we can drive smarter by consolidating trips, drive a well-tuned vehicle or better yet, walk, bike, take transit and ditch the vehicle all together.
We all can make a difference with just a few simple healthy choices to make our summer safe and healthy.
I am the Communications Director for DEQ and a former reporter for the Deseret News. I write a periodic blog post. You can read my previous blog posts here at deq.utah.gov . You can follow me on Twitter.
DEQ invites guest bloggers to share their thoughts on issues that impact our environment. We appreciate their insights and the opportunity to broaden the conversation with others in the community.
Salt Lake County Watershed Planning & Restoration is using crowdsourced photos to help with the ongoing monitoring of our stream restoration projects on the Jordan River! “How?” you may ask. It’s simple: Put up a sign inviting people to set their phone or camera in an angle bracket, take a photo, and post it to Twitter with a site-specific hashtag. Then we harvest the photos to create slideshows that show change over time.
An example of a crowd-sourced photo from one of our photo stations. Click on image for a larger view.
Jordan River Trail users may have already noticed a number of our “self-serve” photo monitoring stations, which were installed last fall. What’s new are the crowdsourced slideshows, now available on our website.
Post-project monitoring is an important part of any restoration project. With the new photo stations, we’re inviting citizens to become part of the monitoring process. This is truly a crowdsourcing effort. Salt Lake County doesn’t own these photos. We won’t download and save them somewhere. Instead, we developed an online tool that harvests the Twitter hashtags and allows us to view the photos in a slideshow format.
Image consistency is important for photo monitoring to be effective. The bracket on top of each photo station helps to ensure a consistent height, angle, and direction for each photo. It’s not perfect. Some photos have been taken vertically, when ideally we prefer them horizontal to capture as much of the restored streambanks as possible. But that little glitch aside, we’re getting loads of great photos! The end result: slideshows that simulate time-lapse photography.
One of our photo stations. Click on image for a larger view.
The stream restoration projects designed by Salt Lake County Watershed use natural channel design to repair damaged streambanks, restore natural function to the river, and improve habitat for wildlife above and below the water. Much of the Jordan River’s banks and historic floodplain have been negatively impacted in one way or another due to development and stream alterations. The reconstructed floodplains and banks at all of our restoration projects are revegetated with native riparian plants, and photo monitoring is a great way to track the growth and success (or failure) of the plants. Photos taken during high water will show how the floodplains are handling the flows. During winter, when foliage is off and water levels are typically lower, we’ll get a clearer view of how the reconstructed streambanks are holding up. We’re relying on our new network of citizen monitors to create a year-round photographic record.
We installed five photo stations along the stretch of river from Arrowhead Park at 4800 South to approximately 5100 South in Murray. These stations will monitor change at several phases of a major restoration project which began in 2015. There is one photo station at Winchester Park (6500 South in Murray) documenting the channel repair and revegetated streambanks completed in 2015. In Draper, we installed one photo station at the river realignment project at 12600 South (just down the trail from Jordan River Rotary Park), which was completed in 2010.
Location of the six photo stations along the Jordan River. Click on map for a larger view.
In addition to the photo monitoring stations, we also developed and installed a series of informational signs that discuss the goals and various aspects of our stream restoration projects. Both types of signs were included to create awareness of stream restoration techniques used by Salt Lake County Watershed Planning & Restoration, explain why the work was needed and how it can improve the river ecosystem for both wildlife and humans!
Next time you’re on the Jordan River Trail, keep an eye out for the photo monitoring stations. And snap a few pictures! Visit our website to learn more about our program and project work.
This project was partially funded by a grant from Jordan River Commission and Utah Forestry, Fire, and State Lands.
I’m a watershed planner with Salt Lake County’s Watershed Planning & Restoration Program. Professionally, I enjoy the challenge of creating effective communication tools to help convey complex ideas to broad audiences. In my free time, I enjoy hiking, botanizing, gardening, snowshoeing, and home improvement projects.
It’s easy to take drinking water for granted. At least in Utah. For the most part, you turn on the tap and clean water flows. Drinking water, however, can be contaminated by biological, chemical, or radiologic agents. To help safeguard human health, the federal government sets standards for more than 80 potential drinking water contaminants.
Click for a larger image
Complicating this already complex regulatory feat is the fact that Utah has nearly 800 water systems that serve 500 people or less. These small drinking water systems draw from a variety of different sources under a variety of different conditions.
“Treating drinking water in the state of Utah is very dynamic. There are many drinking water sources. It comes from springs, wells, lakes or rivers,” says Michelle Deras, an environmental scientist with Utah’s Division of Drinking Water. “Each water source needs a different type of treatment but they all have to meet the same regulations.”
Deras is just one of the many employees at the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Drinking Water that work to ensure the state’s tap water is safe and reliable. When things go wrong, as they occasionally do, she is on the frontline working to make sure residents continue to have access to fresh water.
Last winter, a small Southern Utah drinking water company faced a worst-case scenario. After falling out of compliance, the local sheriff paid them a visit at 1 p.m. on a Friday with a notice of violation.
This notice meant that the company needed to shut down. Right as staff and regulators were ready to take off for the weekend, the drinking water system faced an existential crisis.
Lucky for them, the Division of Drinking Water was already on its way. The engineers, scientists and staff at DEQ are public servants. Their mission is to safeguard Utah’s air, land and water through balanced regulation. They try to be fair. They look for sane solutions to the sorts of issues facing this small drinking water system.
“Instead of just enforcing an action on them, our director rallied as many team members as possible,” recalls, Deras. “The sheriff showed up at 1 p.m. to shut them down. At 4 p.m. we were there to help them figure out how to get restarted.”
With the sun setting below vermillion cliffs, Deras, along with the drinking water administrators, local health department officials and DEQ’s district engineer, got to work coming up with a plan to fix the compliance issues.
Deras started troubleshooting the system with a thorough inspection of the water treatment plant. Drawing on her years of experience in the private sector, she was able to assess whether they were using the proper chemicals and treatments.
Next, the team from DEQ, the water system and the local health department, worked through the weekend coming up with a plan to remedy the issues. Thanks in no small part to good old-fashioned hard work and some long hours, problems were solved and a disaster was avoided.
“We were able to work with the water system and we are continuing to work with the water system to make sure they can get into compliance and serve safe drinking water,” says Deras. “It’s my goal to help set them up for success. Because when they are successful, we all are successful. We are part of a team in protecting public health.”