By Donna Kemp Spangler
They are unknown to the vast majority of Utahns. Yet the quality of life in rural Utah depends on them each and every day. The Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) employs four engineers, each one assigned to different corners of the state to ensure that tap water is clean, sewer systems are working, and environmental messes are cleaned up.
District Engineers are the face of DEQ in rural Utah. In last week’s blog, I highlighted DEQ’s commitment to its brand promise by better connecting the public to what DEQ does. When you think DEQ, we want you to realize that you have a trustworthy source of science-based environmental information that is important to each and every resident.
The District Engineers are a prime example of that expertise. All four DEQ District Engineers work closely with local health department officials and have degrees in civil engineering as well as expertise in geology and groundwater issues. They work with industry and municipalities to review plans for public works projects. And they are the go-to guys for each of DEQ’s five divisions – Air Quality, Water Quality, Drinking Water, Waste Management and Radiation Control, and Environmental Response and Remediation.
So who are they?
Scott Hacking, who lives in Price, travels throughout the Uinta Basin’s oil and gas fields assisting industry with spill cleanups, environmental monitoring, and responding to the occasional emergency response needs for pipeline leaks and releases. He is also currently working with the Tri-County Health Department and local officials to find a solution to failing septic systems in the Stonegate subdivision in Duchesne County. It requires his engineering expertise, but also some rural charm. A friendly, easygoing manner and a neighborly “Hello” and “How’s things?” work better to break the ice and solve problems than declaring “I’m from the State and here to help,” which puts folks off.
“There’s hesitancy in rural Utah to ask about environmental rules and regulations or report environmental concerns in general. However, since we live and work in rural Utah, we ARE locals who just happen to work for DEQ. We can bridge the perceived divide between the State bureaucracy and common sense and help solve local environmental problems that otherwise may not get reported to “the State”.
David Ariotti also lives in Price and is the grandson of an Italian immigrant. His jurisdiction covers the entire southeastern part of the state. When the Gold King Mine breached and spilled 3 million gallons of mine waste into Colorado’s Animas River and eventually made it to Utah’s San Juan River, he quickly headed to Colorado as part of a multi-state coordination effort that included taking water samples and providing the information to Utah communities on the Environmental Protection Agency’s response.
Paul Wright, who works from his office in St. George, covers the entire southwestern part of Utah as district engineer overseeing Washington, Kane, Iron, Beaver and Garfield counties. He handles most of the engineering-related issues for DEQ’s Division of Drinking Water throughout his district. This requires being onsite during construction and providing technical assistance with drinking water systems in the Southwest District. A typical day would be spent identifying an underground storage tank that hasn’t been inspected for leaks, responding to a complaint of an illegal trash dump, changing the air quality filters at the Hurricane Air Monitoring Station, or inspecting a sewer lagoon. When Hildale floodedhttp://www.cnn.com/2015/09/15/us/utah-arizona-flooding/, Paul was part of the emergency response to quickly get a water system repaired until the pipeline rupture was fixed.
John Chartier, who grew up in Sevier County, covers the Central District that includes Juab, Millard, Sanpete, Sevier, Piute, and Wayne counties. Like his counterparts, John inspects sewer systems to ensure they are operating properly and reviews the engineering designs of public works projects. He also collects water samples that are tested at the Central Utah Public Health Department’s water lab for processing the monthly bacteriologic samples the public drinking water systems are required to take. He is currently offering his expertise to the Utah Geological Survey and Central Utah Public Health Department on a study to find out if the septic systems in Monroe are impacting the groundwater.
The best part of their job, they say, is the variety of issues that come up daily and connecting with the communities. After all, they are all neighbors, they shop at the same grocery store, and they recreate in the same places. They have built a reputation of trust when it comes to protecting rural Utah’s environment.
“I think people who know us know what we do, and they understand and appreciate our roles,” said Wright.