Earth Day Every Day at DEQ

By Courtney Ehrlich

If you think about it, it’s pretty amazing that we set aside a day every year to honor the Earth and promote its protection. Did you know that over 193 countries participate in this celebration of our planet? According to the Earth Day Network, Earth Day is “the largest secular holiday in the world – celebrated by more than 1 billion people every year.”

Earth Day

The DEQ team at Liberty Park for its annual Earth Day service project

That wasn’t always the case.

In the spring of 1970, there weren’t any laws in place to protect the air we breathe or the water we drink. But on April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans demanded change. They came together in a “national teach-in” to demonstrate how much clean air, water, and land meant to them, and how critical it was to do a better job of protecting the environment. According to Gaylord Nelson, the U.S. Senator credited with spearheading the first Earth Day,

“The American people finally had a forum to express its (sic) concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air—and they did so with spectacular exuberance.”

By the end of the year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was born, and Congress began to pass federal regulations like the Clean Air Act.  Two years later, Congress passed the Clean Water Act, and two years after that, the Safe Drinking Water Act.  Federal, state, and local governments continue to pass laws to protect and improve the quality of our air, land, and water.

Mulch and more mulch. Click on image for larger view.

Every day, Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) employees work hard to implement those laws. But we also like to take part in service projects that help our community. Every year, we come together for an Earth Day service project to improve the quality of our local outdoor spaces. This year, DEQ volunteered at Liberty Park to spread mulch around the Rotary Park playground.

When we arrived, we saw a lot of mulch…about seven large truckloads piled high around the playground area. The Salt Lake City Parks Department told us to do as much as we could in the time allotted, since it was such a big project. Well, I don’t think they expected what happened next!

Being DEQ, we knew our hard-working, collaborative team could finish the job. And we did, in only 2 ½ hours! We shoveled mulch into wheelbarrows, put it in the playground, and smoothed out the piles so the surfaces were even. We set up a workflow, traded off tasks as needed, and checked our work afterward to make sure it met specs…just like we do in our regular jobs at DEQ.

Open spaces and parks like Liberty Park allow residents to trade the noise and hustle-bustle a city generates for a little getaway in a shady park full of recreation. The DEQ project at Liberty Park aimed to maintain cheerful, clean, and green places to enjoy while simultaneously boosting the mood, health, and well-being of Salt Lake City residents. We could tell that our Earth Day efforts were appreciated…parents and kids even came over and asked how they could help. It was a great way to build community, working side-by-side with the families who enjoy the park.

At DEQ, we value environmental protection, and we don’t just talk about it, we live it. Cleaning up Liberty Park is just one of the ways we show our love for this city and our planet!

Want to learn more about DEQ?  Check out our “Who We Are and What We Do” web page to learn more about the many ways we work every day to safeguard and improve Utah’s environment.

I was born and raised in the green, rolling hills of eastern Iowa’s dairyland and am brand new to beautiful Salt Lake City. I have spent the last few years diving into cultures in 24 countries and living in four of them. I recently returned from graduate school in Scotland where I earned the Environmental Science degree I use each day here at DEQ in the Air Toxics, Lead-Based Paint, and Asbestos (ATLAS) section. My work focuses on protecting human and environmental health by enforcing lead-based paint rules and regulations. I am fascinated by mountains, cultures, languages, and Great Danes. I spend my time doing hot yoga, hiking the Wasatch, and asking Alexa to play more Post Malone.