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New Technical Center Good News for DEQ, the Environment

By Brad Johnson

Architect's rendering of the new technical building

Architect’s rendering of the new technical building

Reliable, science-based information is essential to ensuring the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) makes the best possible decisions and fulfills its mission to safeguard Utah’s air, land, and water. We use the data we collect to protect and inform the public, verify compliance with regulatory standards, and collaborate with local and national universities and partner agencies on research projects. To make sure we have quality data, we need a quality facility to conduct our analytical work and store our equipment. So you can imagine how excited we are about the upcoming construction of a new Technical Center that will allow us to do all that and more.

Our current air-monitoring facility, located in West Valley City, is housed in a retrofitted warehouse not designed for laboratory use. Temperature and humidity control is crucial to ensuring our scientists can collect accurate data, and the conditions at this location present our staff with constant challenges. We have some safety and security concerns with the current facility, and we lease rather than own the building. Our air-monitoring scientists must drive back and forth between the facility and our office — not optimal when we’re trying to reduce employee trips and emissions to improve air quality.

Current Air Monitoring Center

Current Air Monitoring Center

We knew we needed to upgrade our facilities for some time, but receiving the approval to construct a new building is a lengthy process. We approached the Utah State Building Board almost ten years ago, and it took many more years — and many more proposals — before our project rose to the top of the list. In 2015, the Utah State Legislature appropriated $6 million for the design and construction of a technical support center that will be located on state-owned land just around the corner from our office.

The new, 21,500-square-foot building will contain multiple labs, storage for scientific equipment and vehicles/boats, and areas for sample preparation and analytical work. The main occupants will be air-quality scientists from our Air Monitoring Center, but all five divisions have spaces designated for equipment storage and ancillary lab work.

Air-quality scientists will have new warehouse space to build and repair mobile monitoring stations as well as separate labs for analyzing particulate and gaseous contaminants. Most importantly, they will have a “filter room” stabilized for temperature and humidity to analyze air-quality filters, analysis that is critical to fulfilling our statutory responsibility to meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) and track our progress in reducing pollution.

Vacant lot that is the future site of the DEQ Technical Center

Future site of the DEQ Technical Center

While the other four divisions use the Utah Public Health Lab to test and analyze the majority of their samples, they will now have space for sampling preparation and limited analysis. The Division of Water Quality (DWQ) moved to an improved facility a few blocks away from the DEQ offices seven years ago, but even water-quality scientists will benefit from the tech center’s amenities. The Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control (WMRC) will have a lab with small calibration and reference sources to calibrate instruments (e.g., its gamma spectrometer) to verify they are functioning properly before use. The Division of Drinking Water (DDW) and Division of Environmental Response and Remediation (DERR) will also have space to store their sampling equipment.

In many ways, the new building exemplifies DEQ’s values:

Exceptional customer service

Consolidation of our activities into one building allows us to be more responsive to the public and regulated community.

Commitment to employees

New lab facilities improve the efficiency and ease with which our employees do their work and eliminate a time-consuming commute to an offsite facility.

Credibility and trust

State-of-the-art lab labs ensure the accuracy of our internal testing and analysis, which in turn improves our protection of public health and the environment.

Continuous improvement

Centralized space that meets the needs of all our divisions streamlines our work, reduces travel time to outside facilities, and protects valuable scientific equipment.

The final design for the facility will be completed later this summer. Representatives from all five divisions have been involved in the planning and design to ensure the new building meets everybody’s needs. We plan to go out for bid as soon the design is finalized and award a contract in September, with construction set to commence soon after that. We anticipate the building will be completed by December 2018.

We will keep you updated on the changes happening at DEQ’s Technical Center, changes that will ensure the quality of the data we collect and the accuracy of our science-based decisions so we fulfill our commitment to you and your family to safeguard our state’s air, land, and water.

I started my career as a scientist in the Hazardous Waste Program in 1983. Since then I have worked in Superfund, Underground Tanks, Federal Facilities, Emergency Response, Voluntary Cleanup and a few other miscellaneous programs along the way. I am currently Deputy Director of DEQ. I enjoy about anything that can be done outdoors. My wife Annette and I recently spent a few days four wheeling and hiking in the spectacular Bears Ears National Monument. I also enjoy spending time with family and I am the proud father of 5 children, ages 21 – 29, and one granddaughter, age 9 months.

 

This entry was originally published on June 19th, 2017, updated on June 22nd, 2017, and posted in news.

Ozone: Let’s Make “Zero Bad-Air Days” Our Goal this Summer

By Donna Kemp Spangler

School’s out and outdoor activities are in. It’s also the time of the year that the Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality (DAQ) tackles Utah’s other air-quality demon – ozone. And it’s a battle that’s harder to fight.

Unlike the visible winter inversions that trap the fine particulate pollution in the valleys, ozone builds up gradually and is more difficult to see, and predict. It doesn’t have to mean we forget it’s out there. We can’t change the weather, but we can develop healthier air quality habits like driving smarter or less often. We can also avoid idling, use low-polluting products, and airtight gas cans. Why not make “Zero Bad-Air Days” everyone’s goal?

In order to do that, we must first understand the fickle nature of ozone.

Ground-level ozone is created much the same as winter inversion fine particulates. It is not emitted directly in the air, but created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — emissions largely from motor vehicles, but also consumer products, gasoline-powered lawn equipment, and industrial sources. During the summer, these chemicals react with sunlight to create ozone, and as temperatures change throughout the day so do the levels of ozone. Subtle changes can move the ozone needle either above or below the healthy mark – making forecasting much more difficult and often looking more like guesswork.

ozone infographic

Click on infographic for a larger view

A typical hot summer day when the air is stagnant can be the perfect recipe for ozone, when the vehicle exhaust from the morning commute is mixed with the emissions of other activities throughout the day like lawn mowing or idling, to cook up an unhealthy brew that looks something like an overheated bus. Long-term exposure to ozone can be like a sunburn on the lungs. Short term means difficulty in breathing.

Weather has a lot to do with it. So do our choices.

One of the major factors in ozone formation is sunlight. Cloud cover can slow down or turn off the reaction that produces ozone, which makes it pretty difficult to predict those weather events that will influence ozone levels and those that won’t. DAQ’s air quality forecasters will wait until 7 p.m. to make their forecast for the next day’s commute. An unusually calm night with warm temperatures could mean the ozone levels don’t go down as expected. A summer monsoon could clear the pollution out when DAQ had predicted high levels.

When it comes to the public’s health – and DAQ’s predictions take this into account – we prefer to err on the side of caution.  Foul air may or may not be unhealthy at any given time of the day. Specific to ozone, the air quality is generally better in the mornings, so taking advantage of any opportunity to shift outdoor activity to morning hours is a good move. If the forecast is wrong, the only consequence is cleaner air, and it gets us closer to our goal: Zero Bad Air Days.

Want to learn more about forecasting ozone conditions? Check out DEQ’s Facebook page for a Facebook Live chat with Air Quality Monitoring Manager Bo Call at 3 p.m. Thursday, June 15. And always check the daily forecast at airquality.utah.gov for air quality conditions and UCAIR for ways you can help improve Utah’s air.

 Donna SpanglerI am the Communications Director for DEQ and a former reporter for the Deseret News. I write a monthly blog post. You can read my previous blog posts at deq.utah.gov/news. You can follow me on Twitter @deqdonna

 

This entry was originally published on June 12th, 2017, updated on June 12th, 2017, and posted in news.

Do Nutrients Fall from the Sky? A Dust Dilemma

By Janice Brahney, Guest Blogger

Dust in the air

We often think about the impacts of dust on air quality, but it may be affecting water quality as well. Photo credit: Janice Brahney

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.

Dust is as old as dirt. Wind erosion and dust storms are natural phenomena in the semi-arid regions of the western United States. However, human land use and drought have the potential to increase the susceptibility of soil to erosion by reducing vegetation cover, exposing lakebeds, and by disturbing the landscape through a variety of recreational or industrial activities.

We have long known that this erosion removes the fraction of the soil that people care about – the soil fraction that is rich in nutrients, water holding capacity, and organic matter.

A reasonable question is then, where is that dust going and what impact does it have when it gets there?

As it turns out, elevated dust deposition appears to have significant effects on low-nutrient freshwater systems through the enhanced delivery of phosphorus – one of the most important nutrients for aquatic environments.

Without going into too much detail, an intense sampling campaign over several years indicated that dust from southwestern Wyoming’s Green River Valley was facilitating the transport of phosphorus to high mountain lake ecosystems in the nearby Wind River Range. Dust-affected lakes had higher phosphorus concentrations, greater biological productivity (e.g., increased phytoplankton and zooplankton growth), and altered organismal communities. Furthermore, elevated dust deposition and the associated changes to these lake systems was a new phenomenon that we were able to tie directly to human land-use upwind.

An interesting point is that the land-use was not generating dust storms akin to the dust-bowl era; rather small chronic erosion events were having a large cumulative effect. These results led to many more questions. For example, how widespread are the lakes affected by dust-phosphorus?

I conducted two separate studies in an attempt to address this question. The results strongly implied phosphorus is entering many lakes though atmospheric pathways and that this flow has been increasing in recent decades. Though both published papers from this work are circumstantial, they are provocative and hint at a widespread, previously undocumented pathway for one of the most important ecosystem nutrients.

Chart showing Nutrient levels are rising in high mountain lakes and streams. Dust may be the culprit.

Nutrient levels are rising in high mountain lakes and streams. Dust may be the culprit. Stoddard, John L., John Van Sickle, Alan T. Herlihy, Janice Brahney, Steven Paulsen, David V. Peck, Richard Mitchell, and Amina I. Pollard. “Continental-Scale Increase in Lake and Stream Phosphorus: Are Oligotrophic Systems Disappearing in the United States?.” Environmental science & technology 50, no. 7 (2016): 3409-3415.

In the first paper, “Is atmospheric phosphorus pollution altering global lake stoichiometry?” we compare dust chemistry from mountain environments around the world to lake chemistry in the same regions. Mountain lakes are really good indicators of atmospheric nutrient deposition because their catchments tend to be small, steep, and lack vegetation. This means the rainwater that ultimately ends up in the lake has very little time to take up nutrients from the land around the lake. As a result, lake water in these lakes looks like the regional rainwater. If phosphorus emissions were increasing due to human activity, then we would expect to see greater deposition rates of phosphorus — and greater lake water phosphorus concentrations — around regions where this type of human activity occurs. That is exactly what we found. However, correlation is not causation, which is why the title has a question mark.

Collaboration with the EPA produced a second paper: “Continental-scale Increase in Lake and Stream Phosphorus: Are Oligotrophic Systems Disappearing in the United States?” Here, we examined data from thousands of rivers and lakes in the continental U.S. looking for changes in chemistry over three sampling periods in the last decade. Shockingly, we found that the number of lakes and streams that could be classified as low-nutrient had dropped precipitously from approximately 30 percent to less than 7 percent of lakes and 3 percent of streams. In addition, the lakes and rivers that changed the most were the least impacted by human activity in their watershed.

This raises the question: If the phosphorus is not coming from human activity within the watershed, is it coming from outside of the watershed via the airshed?

There is, however, another potential explanation. Even though rainfall has not increased in much of the continental US, rain intensity may have increased, which can lead to greater erosion rates in the catchment, increasing the flux of phosphorus to these systems. At present, a lack of monitoring data prevents us from determining the primary cause of increasing phosphorus concentrations in these remote systems.

Though neither of these latest papers provides a smoking gun for the atmospheric pathway of phosphorus, they indicate that more research and more data are needed. Many government organizations around the world collect rain, but do not measure phosphorus. Many organizations measure atmospheric aerosols, but only the fraction smaller than 10 micrometers (about 1/10th the size of a grain of salt). Further, aerosols collected at any size are rarely analyzed for phosphorus content. There are many reasons for these omissions — dust is hard to measure, samples are often contaminated with bird poop, and soluble reactive phosphorus will start to disappear as soon as it is collected. But there are some manageable solutions to these challenges.

Clearly, given the importance of phosphorus to aquatic ecosystems, this issue should be investigated further. Beyond the transport of nutrients and effects on aquatic systems, many questions remain. For example: What else is being transported and what are the potential effects to human health?

I look forward to answering some of these questions and more with my graduate students at Utah State University. Stay tuned…

I am new faculty in the Department of Watershed Sciences at Utah State University. I have a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science, and a Master of Science and PhD in the Geological Sciences. I am interested in understanding human and natural controls on freshwater ecosystems and the consequences for the organisms that live within them. I aim to conduct research that both makes progress on important scientific questions and produces knowledge that is immediately useful to land and ecosystem managers who must make the best decisions possible as they balance the needs of our human communities and the natural systems they affect. I live in Logan, Utah, and enjoy almost any activity, so long as it is outside.

 

This entry was originally published on June 5th, 2017, updated on June 5th, 2017, and posted in news.

Oil and Gas App Streamlines Inspection Process

By Whitney Oswald

oil and gas wellImagine being an oil and gas compliance inspector and needing to head out into the field for a few days to inspect many sites. Before even heading out to the field, you have to spend quite a bit of time prepping for your trip. Identifying what sites you want to visit, getting the permitting and compliance documents together and printed off for each site, and trying to determine directions to those sites. Sometimes you might even get out in the field only to find out the site doesn’t have any equipment installed yet. And if you find yourself with free time, it’s hard to check out many additional sites, because you don’t know any of the basic information about those sites or even if they are located within state jurisdiction. Arriving at the site with a stack of paperwork, clipboard, and pen while hauling around your Infrared (IR) Camera and other tools doesn’t make your job any easier, either.

What if I told you that Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ) has figured out a novel approach to streamlining this whole process, improving many of these noted issues and frustrations associated with oil and gas compliance inspections?

DAQ, along with the Automated Geographic Reference Center (AGRC) recently completed an EPA Exchange Network grant-funded project to develop an Oil and Gas Tablet and Desktop Compliance Application. The goal of the application was to increase the efficiency of oil and gas field inspections by DAQ compliance personnel. The software was designed with two working parts:

  1. The desktop computer interface, which is a browser-based application (this portion can also be used from a tablet if desired)
  2. The tablet interface, an Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI)-based tablet specific application, Collector and Navigator.

The application allows an inspector to plan a trip using the desktop application, downloading digital permits and documents to the tablet in preparation for the inspections. Using this application, an inspector in the field will have the ability to collect and store pertinent field data, including notes and images in real time on a tablet. On return to the office, the inspector can update the compliance database by uploading and synchronizing the data collected with the tablet to the enterprise database and can use the collected data to write a compliance memo or other compliance documents.

Oil and gas well and tanksThe application provides high-resolution imagery, so an inspector can get a good idea of the equipment installed on the site before even setting foot on the ground. It also provides information about all the oil and gas sites in the Basin, including basic information such as operator name, facility name, and throughputs, or more complicated information like emissions. Finally, the application is a Geographic Information System (GIS)-based application, so each site is included on a map with latitude and longitude coordinates and jurisdictional overlays. This allows inspectors to always know what jurisdiction a site is on. Finally, the software includes voice-navigated, point-by-point directions to help inspectors get to where they’re going.

Our hope is that this application will help to make the oil and gas compliance inspectors jobs a little easier. And, if all works out, this same application architecture could be expanded for application at other sources.

The DAQ compliance section has been a huge help and an important partner in the development of this application lending their time to provide input and feedback of the application. We hope to have the application out in the field for real world use in June 2017, and we look forward to seeing the efficiency increases achieved.

The DAQ app is just one of the many continuous improvement projects at DEQ. Our agency is committed to advancing our mission to safeguard Utah’s air, land, and water, making efficient use of taxpayer dollars, improving our performance, and implementing innovations that advance quality, efficiency, and effectiveness. Check out our FY 2018 Budget Presentation to the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environmental Quality Appropriations Subcommittee for a division-by-division list of DEQ continuous improvement projects.

I am an environmental scientist with the Technical Analysis section at DAQ. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Utah State University and a Master’s degree in Environmental Science from the University of Utah. When not working, I love traveling and spending time outdoors with my husband and two dogs.

This entry was originally published on May 30th, 2017, updated on June 1st, 2017, and posted in news.

ZOOm Go Electric: Clean Transportation at a Discount Price

By Clayton Johnson, Guest Blogger

ZOOm Go logoDEQ 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.

Local nonprofit organizations Utah Clean Energy and Utah’s Hogle Zoo have joined forces to offer the ZOOm Go Electric program, which aims to tackle the Wasatch Front’s air quality issues. The goal of ZOOm Go Electric is to improve local air quality by facilitating increased adoption of clean, electric transportation options. To reach this goal, the program offers community members the opportunity to purchase an electric vehicle (EV) or an electric bicycle (E-bike) through a streamlined process and at a discounted price.

ZOOm Go Electric provides discounts on electric vehicles.

Electric vehicles are quiet, easy to drive, and protect our air quality.

Electric Vehicles and E-bikes can help us address our air quality issues because they emit zero tailpipe emissions. They contribute far less emissions compared to gasoline cars, even taking into consideration the upstream emissions from the electricity generation required for charging. Currently, cars and trucks are responsible for roughly half of the criteria air pollutant emissions that cause poor air quality days. Because EVs and E-bikes contribute up to 99 percent less of some of these pollutants, the increased adoption of these cleaner transportation options represents an important tool for addressing air quality issues along the Wasatch Front.

ZOOm Go Electric provides discounts on eBikes like the one pictured here at Hogle Zoo.

Why not ride an E-bike the next time you visit Hogle Zoo?

Grant funding from the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR) made this program possible. UCAIR has also supported Utah Clean Energy’s past EV discount programs. In 2016, Utah Clean Energy formed partnerships with the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Weber State University, and Utah State University to offer the U Drive Electric and Drive Electric Northern Utah programs. Through both programs, 231 community members purchased electric vehicles last year.

ZOOm Go Electric participants can take advantage of discounts of up to 25 percent on EVs and up to 45 percent on E-bikes from five participating EV dealers and nine participating bike shops. The program discounts are pre-negotiated based on a group-purchase model and come directly from the participating vendors. ZOOm Go Electric gives individual community members the opportunity to take proactive steps towards improving local air quality for all. Make the switch to clean electric transportation with ZOOm Go Electric. Don’t delay! The program ends May 31st.

Interested community members can learn more and enroll in the program at www.zoomgoelectric.orgAfter enrolling, participants will receive a confirmation email with a discount code and instructions about how to follow up with the EV dealers and bike shops of their choice. Those who wish to participate have until May 31st to sign up and make a purchase.

I’ve been with Utah Clean Energy since 2015. The majority of my time is focused on coordinating Utah Clean Energy’s Community Solar and Drive Electric programs, both of which are increasing the adoption of rooftop solar and electric vehicles in Utah through community outreach, a streamlined process, and discounted prices. Originally from Florida, I moved to Utah to attend the University of Utah where I received my bachelor’s degree in Environmental and Sustainability Studies in 2014. 

This entry was originally published on May 22nd, 2017, updated on May 22nd, 2017, and posted in news.

DEQ’s Greatest Asset? Its Employees

By Jen Potter

Photo of the employees who cleaned up the Unity Gardens for an Earth Day service project

DEQ employees volunteered to clean up the Unity Gardens during an Earth Day service project

When I was asked to write a blog about the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s commitment to employees, I asked myself one important question: does DEQ’s commitment to employees include a commitment to employee engagement? While commitment affects an employee’s overall satisfaction with his or her job, engagement goes a step further. A commitment to employee engagement means creating a work environment where employees thrive, and where they in turn are committed to the organization’s goals and values. It’s all about how individuals see their organization.

As our Deputy Director Scott Baird says, “Having a commitment to employees means having a commitment to each other.”

So, how does DEQ do this? I work in the Executive Director’s Office, so I see firsthand how hard our leaders work to balance what DEQ can do with what DEQ wants to do. They are always looking for ways to improve the employee experience.

Professional development for employees is important to DEQ. This photo shows three air-quality scientists presenting their research.

Air Quality scientists Nancy Daher, Whitney Oswald, and Chris Pennell. DEQ encourages its employees to engage in cutting-edge research

Professional Development

Our scientists, engineers and other talented staff don’t just come here with a degree in their field of study and stop there. New technologies, new research, and new challenges arise constantly. DEQ is committed to helping employees boost their knowledge, pursue educational opportunities, and enhance their skills. Employees who are encouraged to learn and grow have greater job satisfaction and contribute to making DEQ the best it can be.

Employee Engagement

Our Executive Director does “walkabouts” in DEQ as often as he can. Dropping by employees’ cubicles or offices on a regular basis helps him get to know staff and become acquainted with the different teams that work here. This type of engagement has enhanced employee morale and shown that our director is truly committed to the employees of DEQ. This has been a huge benefit to staff here at DEQ, because they feel like they truly can talk to him.

Employees enjoy getting tohgether for fun activitie. this photo shows Deborah Ng dressed up for Halloween as an oil can to encourage recycling.

Hazardous Waste Manager Deborah Ng has fun at the annual Halloween party while encouraging folks to recycle their used oil.

Employee FUN

How do you make an office more fun when you are working on serious concerns for the State of Utah? You build people up, you encourage advancement, and you encourage a sense of light–heartedness. You find balance between what you have to do, and when you can pause just a second to look at what you have. We work in an amazing state with so much to offer, not just to our visitors but to our staff. Getting together for fun activities reminds us why we protect this state and gives us the motivation to not only want to do our jobs better, but to form the kinds of relationships that make our organization stronger.

Employee Recognition

Managers and employees have a unique opportunity to acknowledge each other with “On-the-Spot” awards. These awards are a small token to say “thank you” for going above and beyond. Every year, division directors pick one person on their team who exemplifies DEQ’s Mission, Vision, and Values. These individuals are honored because they didn’t just come to work; they improved the State of Utah’s environment.

Employees receive recognition at a luncheon in their honor. Photo shows DEQ administrative professionals.

DEQ couldn’t do the great work it does without these talented administrative professionals, so the agency recognized them at a celebratory luncheon

For me personally, just working here has been rewarding, and that has been because of the leaders I have worked with, starting with Walt Baker, the director of the Division of Water Quality (DWQ). Walt taught me about the importance of communicating and was always seeking my feedback. He reminded me that my contribution was invaluable to DWQ. That in my leadership role, I needed to teach my team how to be empowered, learn to trust themselves, and most importantly, learn to trust each other. Walt showed me that no one was little or insignificant, that we all make a difference.

I am fortunate enough to work for our Executive Team now. They are true leaders. They lead by example; they never shy away from doing what is right for everyone, not just for themselves. Their doors are literally always open, and they are always willing to listen about how to improve. They aren’t afraid to hear the bad, and once they do, they want to do what they can to improve and make things better. That is a true commitment to employees. As an employee, you know you are valued.

Building great leaders is key to building great employees. DEQ is committed to building a great team, one I am proud to be a part of!

I am the Executive Administrative Assistant in the Executive Directors office for DEQ. I have worked for the State of Utah for six years, and love serving this great State! When I am not at work, I enjoy being with my family spending quality time together.  

 

This entry was originally published on May 15th, 2017, updated on May 15th, 2017, and posted in news.