Nutrient Pollution

By Paul Krauth

Typically, DEQ is at the forefront of efforts to make Utah more
“green,” but when it comes to our state waters, being green isn’t good. That’s why we are proposing a new rule to limit the amount of phosphorus that wastewater plants can put into our waterways.

Two pollutants that are really stressing our waters right now are nitrogen and phosphorus. These nutrients act in the water the same way they do on your lawn: they make plants grow. We like our grass green, but our water? Not so much.

Too much nitrogen and phosphorus can cause serious water quality problems. Nutrient pollution impairs drinking water, endangers aquatic life and threatens the recreational use of our favorite lakes and streams.

While these pollutants come from a variety of sources, one source that hits close to home is our wastewater treatment plants. Typically, treatment plants in Utah are not designed or required to remove either of these nutrients. Each day, these plants treat approximately 230 million gallons of wastewater and return it to Utah waters. This is the equivalent of 3 tons of phosphorus and 15 tons of nitrogen released into the water every day.

Nutrient pollution is unsustainable.

The overall solution to this problem—and it’s national in scope—is complex and will take years to resolve. Utah’s Division of Water Quality (DWQ) is taking an important first step with its proposed technology-based limits for phosphorus discharges from wastewater plants.

The proposed rule (for nutrient pollution) will require ALL mechanical treatment plants to reduce the phosphorus in their effluent to 1 mg/L within five years. This limit will reduce phosphorus entering our waters by 2 tons per day—a 66 percent reduction.

As with any additional treatment, there is a cost and we didn’t develop this proposal without that in mind. DWQ commissioned environmental consultant CH2M Hill to conduct a study in 2009 to look at the cost of various levels of treatment. This study showed that reducing these 2 tons of phosphorus will cost the average household an additional $1.34 per month. That’s less than 5 cents per day.

That’s the cost of a large Big Gulp. Isn’t it worth spending the cost of a Big Gulp per month to start protecting Utah’s waters?

We will be travelling around the state this summer to answer your questions and take your comments on our proposed rule. Please join us at one of our public meetings or go to our web page to learn more about the proposed rule and nutrient pollution in general. Hope to see you there!

I am a native Utahan, born and raised in Salt Lake City. After a long and undistinguished career as a professional student earning two engineering degrees, I went to work for the Utah Division of Water Nutrient PollutionQuality in 1989. In 1992, I began working as the Outreach Coordinator for the Division. I provide technical and operational assistance to all of Utah’s wastewater facilities. I like wastewater so much that I hold the highest level of wastewater certifications in bio-solids application, collections, laboratory, maintenance, treatment and small lagoon systems (a total geek). One of my claims to fame is that I was the five-time winner of the “clean lunch plate” award at Hillview Elementary.