The Division of Water Quality (DWQ) protects surface and ground water through programs designed to protect, maintain, and enhance the quality of Utah’s waters. DWQ issues permits for discharges into waters of the state, works with stakeholders to reduce nonpoint pollution from agricultural operations and residential runoff, and uses scientific data to develop strategies to protect the water quality of Utah’s ground water, lakes, rivers, and streams.
DWQ is particularly concerned about the impacts of growth on water quality. Utah’s population and economic growth carry the potential for significant impacts to the state’s water quality. To address these growth-related issues, DWQ has focused its protection efforts on the following areas:
- Strategic investment in storm water, wastewater, and agricultural water infrastructure through water-quality financial assistance programs
- Nutrient pollution reduction
- Nonpoint source pollution reduction
- Spill and harmful algal bloom (HAB) response
- Storm water management
DWQ also works to improve operational efficiencies through increased online permitting, ongoing development of a centralized database for onsite wastewater treatment data, enhanced spill-response mechanisms, and electronic report submissions.
Excess nitrogen and phosphorus in waterbodies, known as nutrient pollution, is a growing problem in Utah and across the country. Nutrients are linked to algal growth, including harmful algal blooms, and can lower dissolved oxygen levels in waterbodies, adversely affecting aquatic life. This pollution comes from a variety of sources, including wastewater treatment plants, nonpoint source pollution from agricultural operations, and residential and municipal storm water runoff. Nutrient pollution poses a significant threat to Utah’s economic growth and quality of life, leading to substantial costs to the state and taxpayers if left unaddressed.
A DWQ administrative rule requiring all wastewater treatment plants to monitor for nitrogen and phosphorus went into effect in 2015. This monitoring requirement allows the division to characterize the magnitude of the state’s nutrient pollution problem and helps ascertain how the division’s nutrient reduction strategy is working.
Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs)
Excess nutrient pollution in waterbodies can lead to harmful algal blooms (HABs). These blooms occur when normally occurring cyanobacteria in the water multiply quickly to form visible colonies or blooms. HABs sometimes produce potent cyanotoxins that can pose serious health risks to people, pets, livestock, and wildlife as well as the ecological health of surface waters.
Conditions during the summer of 2017, including abundant sunlight, high nutrient levels, warm water temperatures, and calm waters, led to numerous cyanobacteria blooms in Utah waterbodies. DWQ led a collaborative, multi-entity response to these blooms, conducting and coordinating extensive sampling to track bloom progress, identifying cyanobacteria species responsible for individual blooms, analyzing cyanobacteria cell concentrations, testing for cyanotoxins, charting trends, working with stakeholders, and keeping the public informed of changing conditions. DWQ provided state and local agencies, particularly local health departments, with critical sampling test results to assist these entities in making important human-health decisions about lake closures, secondary water usage, and allowable recreational uses of affected waterbodies.
The 2017 season differed from the 2016 season in the number of bloom sites, the occurrence of localized blooms at popular reservoirs, and the incidence of cyanobacteria blooms at cold, high-elevation lakes and reservoirs.
An algal bloom that began in Provo Bay in late June 2017 spread to the rest of lake over the course of a few weeks. Cell-count concentrations throughout the lake varied during the summer, but remained consistently above the 20,000 cyanobacteria cells per milliliter (cells/ml) health-based threshold for a warning advisory. In addition, toxin test strips showed the presence of low levels of anatoxin-a at numerous lake sampling locations, another health-based threshold for the issuance of a warning advisory.
While not as dense as the 2016 bloom that closed the lake for a portion of the summer, this year’s bloom was more persistent and contained a wider variety of cyanobacteria taxa than found the previous summer. Many of these taxa were capable of producing cyanotoxins, including microcystin, anatoxin-a, and cylindrospermopsin.
Limited resources made weekly sampling cost-prohibitive for DWQ, but the division was able to partner with researchers at Brigham Young University (BYU) to get weekly samples. The Utah County Health Department (UCHD) assisted with sampling efforts and spot checks on shoreline areas known to accumulate cyanobacteria scums. Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County conducted sampling and testing along the Jordan River and its canals and issued warning advisories when appropriate.
Although the advisory signs were removed from Utah Lake in late fall, the lake remained under a warning advisory due to continued, elevated levels of cyanobacteria.
Deer Creek Reservoir experienced a limited but potent bloom first observed in September 2017. Toxin strip tests on samples from the reservoir showed microcystin levels well above the threshold value of 4 micrograms per liter (µg/L) for a warning advisory. At one point in late October 2017, microcystin levels reached 825 µg/L at Island Park Marina. Toxin strip tests in mid-November 2017 were non-detect for microcystin and anatoxin-a, leading the Wasatch County Health Department to lift the warning advisory.
DWQ scientists observed algal blooms at Echo and Rockport Reservoirs during routine E. coli monitoring in October 2017. Microcystin levels were above the 4 µg/L health-based threshold at Rockport, reaching a high of 8.7 µg/L at the Rockport Marina. At Echo Reservoir, test strips detected anatoxin-a, and cell-count concentrations reached 14.7 million cells/ml, far exceeding the 20,000 cells/ml guidance level for a warning advisory. Both reservoirs remained under a warning advisory until November 2017, when testing no longer detected microcystin and anatoxin-a.
A harmful algal bloom detected mid-August 2017 at Mantua Reservoir tested greater than 5 µg/L for microcystin, triggering a warning advisory. While microcystin levels dropped in September 2017, toxin test strips detected anatoxin-a, and cell-count concentrations throughout the recreational season remained well above the 20,000 cells/ml health-based threshold recommendation for a warning advisory.
Samples collected in mid-August 2017 tested at >5 µg/L for microcystin and low levels of anatoxin-a, triggering a warning advisory under health advisory guidance. Matt Warner experiences periodic harmful algal blooms, the most deadly one occurring in 2004, when 18 cows died from liver failure after drinking water from the reservoir.
A sample collected at the boat ramp at the Rock Cliff Recreation Area in mid-October 2017 contained cyanobacteria concentrations greater than 17 million cells/ml, densities that exceeded the 20,000 cells/ml threshold for a warning advisory under health-based guidance. Toxin strip tests also showed low levels of anatoxin-a. By mid-November 2017, cyanobacteria levels had decreased and toxin strip-tests were non-detect for all toxins, leading the Wasatch County Health Department to lift the warning advisory.
Toxin strip tests indicating the presence of anatoxin-a at the 21st Street Pond led to a warning advisory for the popular urban recreation spot. Due to the proximity to an urban area, dog owners were advised to keep their pets out of the water to avoid possible poisoning from anatoxin-a.
Upper Box Creek Reservoir and Hoop Lake
Blooms at remote, colder, high-elevation lakes and reservoirs appear to contradict the warmer conditions normally associated with harmful algal blooms. A sample from Hoop Lake, for example, showed toxigenic cyanobacteria cell-count concentrations above 720.78 million cells/ml. DWQ scientists will continue to explore these events to learn more about the factors that contribute to these types of blooms.
HABs Strategic Communication Committee
In 2015, DWQ organized a HABs Strategic Communication Committee with representatives from DWQ, the Utah Department of Health, local health departments, the Division of Drinking Water, Utah State Parks and Recreation, the Utah Department of Natural Resources, the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, and other stakeholders. The committee developed outreach campaigns to educate the public about health risks from HABs, discussed agency HAB-response messaging, expanded the 24-hour DEQ Spills Line to include bloom reports, and fine-tuned the decision-making matrix for the issuance of health advisories at affected waterbodies.
DWQ hosted a HABs workshop in May 2017 that brought together a variety of stakeholder groups to discuss Utah’s response to HAB events. Attendees heard presentations on monitoring efforts, HAB guidance for drinking-water facilities, Utah Department of Agriculture and Food’s (UDAF’s) HAB program, DWQ HAB monitoring and sampling programs, strategic risk communication planning before blooms, and communication coordination during blooms.
The groundwork laid by the committee facilitated effective agency responses and coordination during the 2017 blooms. The committee will continue to build on “lessons learned” this summer to improve communication with the public and facilitate coordination with entities impacted by these blooms.
Success Story: HABs Data Tracking
DWQ scientists started to look for new methods to collect HABs monitoring data after blooms increased in frequency and severity on Utah Lake. Comprehensive data help scientists track conditions in the lake and improve their understanding of the emergence and progression of these blooms. DWQ requested and received funding from the Water Quality Board in 2016 for three water-quality data buoys for Utah Lake. Additional funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made it possible for DWQ to deploy two additional water-quality data buoys at Deer Creek and Scofield Reservoirs, both drinking-water sources.
The multi-parameter water-quality data buoys in the DWQ HAB Network are equipped with sensors that measure a range of water-quality parameters, including turbidity, dissolved oxygen, pH, specific conductivity, water temperature, chlorophyll a, and phycocyanin. In combination, these parameters indicate and identify changes in water-quality conditions, including cyanobacteria production. The HAB Network streams this information every 15 minutes, providing scientists and the public with real-time water-quality data.
This summer, DWQ was able to compare these buoy data with satellite images taken by the Cyanobacteria Assessment Network (CyAN). CyAN is a multi-agency project between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the EPA. The network uses historical and current satellite data to detect cyanobacteria blooms on a near-daily basis. This year, DWQ was able to use this imagery to track the formation, concentration, and location of blooms in Utah Lake. This information helped scientists target areas for sampling and assess the progression of the bloom across the lake.
Utah Lake Study
DWQ initiated the Utah Lake Water Quality Work Plan to chart a path forward for evaluating impairments on Utah Lake, developing tools for water-quality decision-making, and facilitating the incorporation of the work on the lake by past, current, and future stakeholders/partners. The water-quality study looks at the role excess nutrients play in the water quality and the ecological conditions of the lake, building on the initial Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) study put on hold in 2007.
Phase 1 of the study focused on establishing a group of key stakeholders, compiling existing data sets, evaluating designated-use support, developing source-load characterization, and developing water-quality models. Phase 2 of the study will focus on development of in-lake numeric nutrient criteria for nitrogen and phosphorus in support of DWQs statewide nutrient criteria strategy. A report summarizing Phase 1 findings is expected in January 2018.
DWQ and Utah Lake stakeholders held meetings and hosted events in 2017 to move the study process forward.
Utah Lake Education Day
Provo City sponsored Utah Lake Education Day on March 30, 2017, to bring together researchers and stakeholders to discuss ongoing efforts to study and understand Utah Lake.
Utah Lake Summit
The Central Utah Water Conservancy District organized and sponsored a summit on May 23, 2017, for Utah Lake stakeholders. A panel of experts discussed a variety of topics, including the history of the lake, accomplishments to date, and the challenges and complexities involved in managing Utah Lake.
In November 2016, DWQ, the Utah Lake Commission, and a group of engaged stakeholders began to revising the existing stakeholder plan. Their goal: develop a formal process that enhanced relationships, established goals and objectives for the project, implemented a scientifically defensible research plan, and recommended policy.
The Utah Lake Water Quality Study Stakeholder Process established a 16-member Steering Committee representing diverse stakeholder interests along with an independent Science Panel responsible for developing scientifically defensible water-quality goals for the lake. DWQ received numerous comments from the Utah Lake Stakeholder group while developing the Stakeholder Process document.
On June 22, 2017, the Utah Lake Commission Governing Board formally adopted a resolution endorsing the stakeholder process.
Utah Lake Sampling and Analysis Plan
DWQ developed and implemented a water-quality monitoring program for the 2017 field season in coordination with a sub-group of stakeholders. This program was designed to support study and supplemental research activities on the lake. The plan was developed in collaboration with researchers from the Wasatch Front Water Quality Council, Brigham Young University, University of Utah, Utah Valley University, and Utah State University.
DWQ completed data collection on the open body of Utah Lake during the summer of 2017. The data-collection effort focused on enhancing the background dataset and advancing scientific understanding of harmful algal blooms on the lake. Weekly sample collection, conducted in partnership with Brigham Young University, also provided important information on summer bloom conditions on the lake.
DWQ recently awarded a contract to a professional facilitation service to help guide the stakeholder and study process. The facilitator will focus on developing a collaborative study process while providing stakeholders the opportunity to communicate their vision and input effectively. DWQ plans to host a project kickoff meeting in January 2018.
Great Salt Lake
The unique qualities that make the Great Salt Lake (GSL) ecologically and economically significant also present considerable challenges for its protection.
DWQ developed a Great Salt Lake Water Quality Strategy in response to these challenges. The Strategy was officially launched in 2014. The division worked with stakeholders for two years to develop a comprehensive water-quality strategy to address the lake’s unique needs and characteristics, fill critical knowledge gaps, improve management decisions, and reduce regulatory uncertainty.
The strategy consists of five core components:
- Aquatic Life Numeric Criteria for Priority Pollutants
- Strategic Monitoring and Research
- Wetland Program Plan
- Nutrient Assessment Plan
- Recreational Use Numeric Criteria
These core components will help DWQ develop numeric water-quality criteria to protect aquatic life and recreational uses, improve water-quality monitoring, prioritize research, implement monitoring and assessment plans for wetlands, and assess the impacts of nutrient loading on water quality.
Since adoption of the plan, DWQ has made considerable progress in implementing the Strategy. Accomplishments to date include:
- Implementation of a GSL monitoring program
- Initial steps in numeric criteria development for priority pollutants
- Implementation of an interim discharge permitting program to protect GSL’s water quality while standards are developed
Current objectives for the strategy include the development of the wetland and nutrient- assessment components of the strategy.
2016 Integrated Report (IR)
The Clean Water Act (CWA) requires states to assess the conditions of surface waters every two years to determine if they are meeting their designated beneficial uses. The Integrated Report satisfies these CWA requirements for both Section 305(b), the condition of the state’s waters, and Section 303(d), a prioritized list of impaired waters that may require Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) development to meet water quality standards.
To prepare the report, DWQ compiled all existing and readily available data, conducted beneficial use assessments, and summarized the results into the biennial Integrated Report (IR) it submitted to the EPA in December 2016.
DWQ reported on the condition of 750 river and stream segments (15,583 river and stream miles) and 142 lakes and reservoirs (1,467,222 surface acres). The state classifies waters based on their uses and develops water-quality standards to protect those uses. Utah’s designated uses include drinking water, recreation, aquatic wildlife, and agriculture. The Great Salt Lake has separate beneficial-use designations due to its unique characteristics.
The report found that more than half of Utah’s lakes do not meet water quality standards. While 21 percent of the streams assessed met water quality standards, 47 percent did not. Another 32 percent had insufficient data to make a determination and require additional monitoring. DWQ added several new waterbodies to the list of non-supporting waters in Utah, developed new methodology for assessing harmful algal blooms and dissolved oxygen, and crafted a new vision for implementing the 303(d) program that tailors strategies to specific situations in the 2016 IR.
Data collected in the San Juan River, a Utah waterway impacted by the Gold King Mine spill, led DWQ to list two segments of the river as impaired for metals. Improved assessment methods for HABs resulted in the listing of Utah Lake as impaired for recreation uses due to HABs. The 2016 IR contains new sources of data, tailored strategies for restoring and protecting water quality that move beyond a “one-size-fits-all” approach, and a draft methodology for analyzing high frequency dissolved-oxygen data, a critical component of aquatic health.
The frequency of oil and chemical spills in Utah waters increased in recent years, and DWQ responded by identifying effective and efficient ways to respond to spills and improve coordination with other agencies. The 2014 Spills Kaizen helped the division pinpoint the areas where it could improve its process and streamline its spills response, including the hiring of a full-time, spill-response coordinator to oversee the division’s role in responding to incidents.
DWQ issued a Notice of Violation (NOV) and Compliance Order to the North Utah County Water Conservancy District (NUCWCD) for a number of water-quality violations, including discharging while not so authorized under a valid state discharge permit, releasing a pollutant to state waters that impaired the beneficial uses of the water, and discharging waste that degraded water quality.
On May 24, 2017, the Water Quality Board approved a Settlement Agreement with NUCWCD to resolve the NOV. Settlement terms included:
- Reimbursement to DWQ for monitoring costs: $70,802
- Reimbursement to DWQ for labor costs: $21, 820
- Penalties for violations: $52,500
NUCWCD was also required to implement a sediment remediation plan that included sediment cleanup and removal, waste hauling and disposal, and a sampling protocol going forward.
During the summer and fall of 2017, environmental consultants for NUCWCD sampled the sediment and water in the American Fork River drainage, including a location on the South Fork of the American Fork River. In general, the results of analysis of the water samples showed the concentrations of metals in the water were below the screening levels for recreational, agricultural, and aquatic-life uses.
Concentrations of metals detected in the samples of sediments of the American Fork River below the confluence of the North and South Forks were almost all below the recreational and aquatic-life screening levels; in some cases the concentrations were more than 10-fold lower than at the same location in 2016 after the discharge.
These results confirm the results of numerous samples collected during the past year by the National Park Service in Timpanogos Cave National Monument, which also showed the concentrations of metals in both the water and sediment had fallen to levels below the screening values.
However, the concentrations of some metals detected in the sediment samples collected in both the North Fork and South Fork were higher than expected, suggesting the normal background levels for the American Fork River drainage may be higher than originally thought. Further sampling and testing will be performed in 2018.
Success Story: Gold King Mine Spill Collaboration
On August 5, 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) triggered a release that sent three million gallons of mine water from the Gold King Mine (GKM) into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River in Colorado. The Animas River flows into the San Juan River, which terminates in Lake Powell, Utah.
DEQ has monitored sediment and water quality in the San Juan River since the event and evaluated spill-related metals concentration trends in the context of long-term historical trends. DEQ recently completed the San Juan River monitoring report, which is currently under peer review.
Questions remain regarding these event-based metal loads into the San Juan River and Lake Powell and the long-term natural and mining-related metals loads. DEQ, in cooperation with EPA, regional state jurisdictions, Native American tribes, and municipal and county stakeholders, has prioritized a number of individual projects and an overarching San Juan River watershed monitoring plan to better understand the sediment and water quality of the San Juan River and Lake Powell and their effects on human and aquatic health. Under the congressionally appropriated Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, EPA was awarded $4 million dollars per year for each of the next five years for disbursement to the jurisdictions affected by the GKM release.
DEQ advocated for a high priority coring project in Lake Powell, watershed-wide monitoring and assessment activities, and enhanced communication activities. These efforts resulted in a $1 million award to DEQ to implement these projects.
Water Quality Funding
Grantsville Collection System Upgrade
Grantsville City received a low-interest- rate loan of $4.8 million to rehabilitate its aged collection system to meet the city’s growth. This project will enable the city to protect its important ground water resources from septic tank discharges while accommodating strong regional community growth. The construction of this project is being coordinated with upgrades to the city’s culinary water lines and a major road construction project by the Utah Department of Transportation through the Main Street of Grantsville. The city has demonstrated great planning and cost-saving initiatives by coordinating these projects. This coordination will help reduce the congestion through the city’s main thoroughfare during construction. The city plans to start construction in summer 2018.
Grantsville City commends the Utah Division of Water Quality staff for their guidance. They have been a vital part of making our project feasible. With their expertise and knowledge, they have directed us through the process. They have given us the requirements, technical knowledge, and contacts that were essential. John (Mackey) and Cheryl (Parker) have a great understanding of municipalities and the problems they face with both funding and infrastructure upgrades. It has been a pleasure working with them.”
Brent Marshall, Grantsville City Mayor
Water-quality improvements can carry significant costs, which is why DWQ provides low-cost and no-cost funding for wastewater infrastructure and water quality projects in the state. The Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF) receives, on average, a combined $9 million each year from state and federal funding, with an additional $15 million, on average, from loan repayments. The financial assistance program helps communities leverage or supplement funding for water-quality improvement activities.
Wastewater treatment plant construction and upgrades are vitally important for reducing the nutrient pollution in Utah waters from population growth. The state’s aging wastewater treatment infrastructure, tighter standards, and population growth will mean many communities will turn to DWQ’s low- or no-cost funding program for assistance with plant upgrades and construction in the future.
South Davis Sewer District
The South Davis Sewer District (SDSD) has received approval for a loan-funding package of $28.85 million to construct a new tertiary, algae-based treatment (Clearas) system extension to the SDSD South Plant, including $2.5 million of nonpoint-source project funding. The system will allow SDSD to meet current and future nutrient-discharge regulations. The algae system will bolt onto the existing SDSD wastewater plant. The algae treatment will not only provide a high-quality effluent but also offer reuse-quality water and the potential to sell an algae product to offset operation costs.
DWQ closed a low-interest loan of just over $1 million to Summit County for construction of a new sewer line. This new sewer line will connect the Silver Creek Subdivision with the Snyderville Water Reclamation District and will eliminate septic tank discharges in the headwaters of East Canyon Creek, which is impaired due to nutrient pollution.
Blanding City received a loan of $2.6 million to support its proposed wastewater collection project. The proposed collection system will construct a new, east sewer trunk line on Brown Canyon Road. The new trunk line will convey wastewater to the treatment lagoon system. The proposed trunk line includes a large potential service area for properties with basements and future transportation corridors.
Moab City closed a low-interest loan of $14.2 million to support its proposed wastewater treatment plant project. This funding package supports modernization and replacement of a 50- to 60-year-old treatment infrastructure challenged in recent years to comply with water-quality requirements. The original facilities were constructed in response to the uranium boom, but as the community grew, wastewater treatment needs changed. The proposed facilities will accommodate projected growth in the city and surrounding county. Additionally, the new facility will be capable of managing hauled wastes from surrounding state and national parks, remote facilities, and homes across the southeastern part of the state. This aspect of the project supports the cost-effective operation of onsite wastewater disposal systems. Affordable septic tank maintenance benefits the state broadly as it contributes to control of nonpoint-source water pollution.
DWQ closed a $2.7 million loan and $400,000 grant subsidy to upgrade and rehabilitate Duchesne city’s four-cell lagoon system with improved treatment and waste management capabilities. The Water Quality Board recognized the community’s current economic situation and hardship due to the recent downturn in the oil market, so it set the loan interest rate at 0.25 percent with an extended term of 30 years.
Salem received a loan of $13 million to construct a new mechanical treatment plant that will meet the community’s needs for wastewater disposal as residential and commercial growth expands and water-quality requirements become more challenging to meet.
Eagle Mountain – White Hills
Eagle Mountain received a $510,000 construction grant to be used in conjunction with a $1.28 million low interest loan to repair the White Hills subdivision collection system and connect the annexed area to the city’s wastewater treatment plant. This project will decommission the failed wastewater treatment lagoons previously used by the White Hills subdivision. The Water Quality Board awarded the city a low-interest-rate loan in recognition of the city’s effort to improve water quality in the area through annexation of the White Hills subdivision.
Roosevelt City received a funding package that included up to $2 million in a grant subsidy and a loan of up to $1.167 million to install a collection system in the Stonegate subdivisions in the Hancock Cove area near the city and connect to the existing sewer system of Roosevelt City. The city also received funding from the Permanent Community Impact Board (PCIB), including up to $2 million in a grant subsidy and up to $500,000 in a loan to assist with the sewer project and install a storm water management system for the area. This project is being constructed to address failing septic systems that, due to high ground water, have caused ponding of water that tested positive for E.coli. This project will provide a permanent solution to the water-quality and human-health threats caused by the failing septic systems.
Morgan City received a low-interest loan of $2.83 million to rehabilitate an existing critical-lift station and install headworks and a new disinfection system to their current lagoon treatment system. These improvements are the first of a two-part project to convert the city’s lagoon treatment system into a mechanical treatment plant. This first phase of the project will allow the city to reliably meet their discharge permit. The second phase of the project will allow the city to continue to grow and meet the new stringent nutrient requirements for phosphorus removal. The city hopes to start construction in the first quarter of 2018.
Storm Water Management
Rapid growth in Utah has led to increased urbanization and the conversion of undeveloped land to impervious surfaces such as roads, parking lots, rooftops, and driveways. This change in land use has resulted in an increase in the volume of storm water runoff. Rainwater and snowmelt water used to percolate into the soil; now it runs off impervious surfaces, picking up contaminants such as nutrients, metals, petroleum products, and sediment and discharging them, largely untreated, into state waterbodies. Improving the management of the quality of storm water generated by increasing development continues to be a major initiative for DWQ.
Storm Water Discharge Permits
Storm water discharges are regulated through the Utah Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, Utah’s version of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), the permit mandated by the Clean Water Act to control pollutants from entering the waters of the state. The UPDES program regulates discharges from industry, construction sites, and municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s). Over the past several years, Utah’s storm water universe has continued to grow steadily to over 4,300 permits.
To more efficiently manage the administration, enforcement, education, and outreach associated with these permits, DWQ has recently undertaken the following initiatives:
- Online permitting for storm water general permits to ensure permits are processed in an efficient and timely manner. Hours spent processing permits have dropped dramatically since the online permitting system began in 2011.
- Monthly Utah Storm Water Advisory Coalition meetings held between permittees, consultants, DWQ staff, and other stakeholders to discuss permit implementation.
The volume of storm water runoff discharged to and transported by municipal storm-drain systems is one of the main causes of water-quality degradation in urban areas. To reduce the volume of storm water discharged to drainage systems, and ultimately the state’s waterbodies, DWQ has adopted a storm water retention standard in its MS4 Permit. This standard requires management of the portion of storm water on site that is equal to the 90th percentile storm event. This permit requirement will be accomplished through the use of Low Impact Development (LID) practices designed, constructed, and maintained to infiltrate, evapotranspire, and/or harvest and reuse rainwater. Examples of LID Best Management Practices (BMPs) include site design practices that minimize impervious surfaces and retain vegetation, bioretention swales or raingardens, green roofs, permeable pavement surfaces, and rainwater harvesting and reuse.
To facilitate the adoption of the permit retention standard by the implementation date of March 1, 2019, DWQ has:
- Formed a Long-Term Storm Water Management Work Group made up of contractors, developers, MS4 representatives, DWQ staff, and consultants to discuss storm water management in accordance with the standard as well as opportunities and obstacles to implementation.
- Developed a Scope of Work for an LID Design Manual. The manual will aid MS4s and the development community with selecting LID BMPs for specific site conditions.
- Made available low-cost and no-cost funding for water-quality improvement projects that incorporate an LID approach through the State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF) and Nonpoint Source (NPS) DWQ is currently soliciting LID projects from its partners and plans to distribute $1 million for construction of innovative storm water projects that will improve the quality of the state’s waters.
Ground Water Protection
The Ground Water Protection Section within DWQ administers two primary programs to protect the quality of Utah’s ground water resources:
- Federal Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program
- State Ground Water Quality Protection Program
The UIC Program protects underground sources of drinking water by reviewing and approving numerous, small-scale injection activities such as storm water dry wells, ground water remediation wells, and domestic underground drain fields.
The Ground Water Quality Protection Program protects ground water by issuing permits to agricultural and industrial waste management units that have the potential to discharge pollutants into ground water. The two primary elements of ground water discharge permits are:
- Best available technology to minimize subsurface discharge
- Compliance ground water quality monitoring
Success Story: Underground Hydrocarbon Storage in Millard County
Underground storage caverns provide a cost-effective method for the storage of hydrocarbons. Utah does not have specific statutes, administrative rules, or dedicated agencies governing the creation, operation, maintenance, and closure of underground storage caverns, so DWQ worked with other agencies and programs to combine regulatory authorities and mechanisms to address the human safety and environmental protection issues commonly associated with these facilities. This collaborative effort has made it possible for several companies to pursue underground energy storage options in a buried salt deposit in central Utah.
Magnum Energy and Sawtooth NGL Caverns are in various stages of development and operations of underground storage caverns in a salt body located approximately 10 miles north of Delta in Millard County. Regulatory oversight of the construction of each well and cavern is shared by the DWQ Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program under a UIC Class III permit and the Division of Oil, Gas and Mining (DOGM) under a special board order issued by the Utah Board of Oil, Gas and Mining.
Construction of evaporation ponds for the large volume of brine produced during the solution mining of the cavern is subject to DWQ ground water quality protection. The division issued a ground water discharge permit for the operation of the two current brine ponds and support facilities. Five ground water monitoring wells completed in the shallow ground water underlying the evaporation ponds are monitored according to the DWQ-approved ground water sampling and analysis plan to verify that the brine ponds and their leak-detection systems are functioning properly and protect the underlying Class II ground water. These ponds are also subject to the Division of Water Rights Dam Safety approval process.
Other federal, state, and local, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), EPA, Department of Transportation (DOT), Department of Homeland Security, School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA), Utah State Fire Marshall, and Millard County oversee other important aspects of underground storage facilities such as emergency response planning and facility security, safety, and closure.
These types of collaborative, multi-agency efforts provide environmental protection and oversight while encouraging economic development in rural Utah.
Success Story: East Waste Rock Extension – Kennecott
The East Waste Rock Extension is an example of DWQ partnering with the regulated community in a way that benefits both parties. The project allowed the mine site to expand waste rock placement operations in a manner that will extend the life of the mine while minimizing impacts to the environment.Rio Tinto Kennecott Utah Copper (RTKC) recently extended the footprint of the east-facing waste rock piles to accommodate placement of additional waste rock from mining operations. This project required the relocation and reconstruction of the Eastside Collection System (ECS), the water collection-and-capture system for the waste rock piles. The East Waste Rock Extension (EWRE) project relocated the existing ECS and replaced and upgraded portions of the system.
Ground water monitoring required by the permit continues as it did prior to the EWRE project and is mostly unchanged. One monitoring well no longer met permit criteria when the new cut-off wall was installed in a location downgradient of the well. A replacement well was installed by RTKC to restore the ground water monitoring network. The remaining compliance wells are located immediately east of the final, extended dump toe and were unaffected by the project.
The new waste rock is being placed in a configuration that will allow for reclamation of the final waste rock surfaces. The reclaimed waste rock will have a store-and-release cover system designed to minimize infiltration into the underlying waste rock and segregate storm water surface flows into a separate conveyance pipeline to minimize contamination of non-contact water. The reclaimed waste rock will tie into and overlie the existing waste rock surfaces. The goal of reclamation is to minimize infiltration, thus lowering the amount of waste-rock contact water generated by the old and new waste rock areas.
The East Waste Rock Extension Project was a complex project that took years to plan and construct, and the Division of Water Quality was a key stakeholder that provided tremendous support and a positive working relationship on this project.”
– Zeb Kenyon, RTKC Project Engineer
Nonpoint Source Projects
Nonpoint-source (NPS) pollution can come from a number of sources, including streets, parking lots, agricultural lands, and construction sites. NPS pollution can include:
- Excess fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides from agricultural lands
- Sediment from erosion or construction activities
- Bacteria and nutrients from livestock, pets, and septic systems
The NPS program provides funding to improve the water quality of impaired waterbodies through a voluntary, incentive-based approach. Cooperators receive financial assistance to offset the cost of implementing projects that protect and improve water quality. Projects use Best Management Practices (BMPs) and follow the watershed-based planning strategy. Because nutrient pollution is one of the primary causes of waterbody impairments, many of the funded projects are designed to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loading into Utah waterways. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, DWQ awarded $990,000 in state NPS funds to 36 projects. DWQ also awarded over $1 million in federal funds to three projects: Utah State University Monitoring, Local Watershed Coordinators, and the Logan River Restoration Project. An additional $10,000 was reserved for onsite septic system projects that might arise during the year.
Success Story: Chalk Creek Watershed
In 1990, DWQ began funding water-quality improvement projects in the Chalk Creek watershed through Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 319 funding after a 1987 assessment of the watershed determined the creek didn’t meet the standards for a cold-water fishery due to elevated sediment and phosphorus levels. The watershed was later listed as biologically impaired due to high sediment levels.
Water-quality improvement projects in the Kamas Valley reduced streamside erosion and removed livestock from sensitive riparian areas. These restoration efforts reduced phosphorus and sediment loading into Chalk Creek.
Since 1990, nearly $2.5 million in CWA Section 319 funding has been used to improve water quality throughout the watershed. Since restoration efforts began, there has been a noticeable decrease in both the phosphorus and sediment loading into Chalk Creek. In 2016, the Chalk Creek segment above the confluence with the South Fork of Chalk Creek and East Fork Chalk Creek were removed from Utah’s list of biologically impaired waters. Other reaches of the creek could be delisted for biological impairments in the near future
Improvement projects have restored 5.3 miles of stream channels, replaced or added protection on nine bridge sites to reduce erosion, improved 1,200 acres of irrigation, and relocated five animal feeding operations to reduce nutrient loading to the creek. Grazing management plans developed and implemented on over 96,000 acres have re-seeded 7,000 acres, added 2.5 miles of cross fencing, and installed 104 livestock watering facilities, 100 sediment catchment basins, and 300 water bars. Additional work is planned in the South Fork of Chalk Creek to reduce sediment and nutrient loading.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) selected Chalk Creek as a National Water Quality Initiative watershed in 2017. This designation provides a means for the NCRS and its partners to help agricultural producers and landowners implement voluntary practices that reduce nutrient loading to waterways. The state of Utah has also allocated a large amount of fiscal year (FY) 2018 funding to help continue implementation efforts.
Partners involved in the Chalk Creek Restoration Project include DWQ, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Trout Unlimited, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), EPA, NRCS, and private landowners. Since 1990, more than $4.5 million from multiple sources has been spent on restoration activities in the Chalk Creek watershed, including EPA section 319 funding, Utah nonpoint source grants, and funds from Trout Unlimited, NRCS, USFWS, and private landowners.
Success Story: North Fork Virgin River
In 2010, the North Fork Virgin River was included on the Utah list of impaired waterbodies for exceedances of the E. coli standard. E. coli in a waterbody is indicative of fecal contamination. On any given day in the summer, thousands of people recreate in and along the popular Zion Narrows trail, which is carved by the flow of the North Fork Virgin River. As a result, the potential threat to human health is high, so studying this area, characterizing where and when the problem occurs, and identifying potential solutions was a priority for DWQ staff.
An outhouse perched over an irrigation canal on the North Fork Virgin River contributed to high E. coli levels in the river. The outhouse was removed in 2015 and replaced with a pit toilet at the Chamberlain Ranch trail.
– Jay Olsen, UDAF Environmental Stewardship Coordinator
Continuous Improvement/SUCCESS Framework
DWQ is committed to continuous improvement to increase performance and implement innovations that advance quality, efficiency, and effectiveness. The division has expanded the SUCCESS Framework process from the management to the staff level to generate more improvement ideas and opportunities.
Continuous Improvement Spotlight: Integrated Report
Although preparation of the Integrated Report (IR) involves staff members across multiple sections at DWQ, the division only has one dedicated staff member to coordinate the entire project. Numerous changes to the review process, data management, rule modifications, and assessment methodology over the past ten years have complicated staff coordination and delayed delivery of the report to EPA.
DWQ selected the IR as its first Continuous Improvement (CI) Project. The goal: standardize the reporting process. The CI Project kicked off in March 2017 and began with a value-stream mapping exercise to characterize the process used during the previous reporting cycle. Approximately 25 staff members participated in the mapping exercise. Participants identified bottlenecks to the current process utilizing the “Eight Wastes in the Office” guidance prepared by the DEQ Continuous Improvement Team. The group then developed an “Ideal State” that removed constraints, considered the perspective of customers, and removed waste from the process.
By June 2017, the DWQ improvement team was able to reduce report preparation to a few key areas: scoping, data management, changes to methodology, and tool development. DWQ will use focus groups to further streamline the process for each of these key areas. Focus group data will also help DWQ define and clarify work tasks and deadlines. This information will help simplify the process and help staff meet EPA deadlines.
Upcoming Continuous Improvement Projects
Expedited Settlement Offer (ESO)
DWQ’s current deterrent for noncompliance is a formal enforcement process that involves issuance of a notice of violation, opportunities for review and appeal, and the possibility of a monetary penalty in a negotiated settlement agreement. The process can be very time consuming and may delay compliance during the negotiation process.
The expedited settlement offer (ESO) provides an efficient, real-time enforcement mechanism in situations where violations of the Utah Water Quality Act do not pose an immediate or significant threat to human health and/or the environment and can be corrected quickly. The ESO will be used to supplement DWQ’s traditional enforcement process. Violators are not compelled to sign an ESO. If they decline, DWQ will pursue resolution through its traditional enforcement process. ESO penalties are designed to be about 40 percent less than a penalty determined through the traditional enforcement process.
Paperless MWPP surveys
The Municipal Wastewater Planning Program (MWPP) uses an annual survey to collect infrastructure, operational, and financial-needs information from 200 publically owned utilities. The survey assesses the current condition of sewage collection and treatment infrastructure in the state as well as the engineering and financial planning activities underway for upkeep and expansion of this infrastructure. The survey is comprehensive and customized for five different types of utilities.
The MWPP survey provides important feedback to DWQ about the long-term capacity and monetary needs of the industry. The division uses this feedback to:
- Inform management, community leaders, state leadership, and EPA on the long-term financial needs for protecting water quality.
- Identify and prioritize community projects for State Revolving Fund (SRF) financial assistance.
- Identify operator concerns and system capacity limitations.
- Streamline required reporting under the Utah Sewer Management Program.
The MWPP survey is currently sent in paper form through the mail. In 2016, DWQ customized, printed, organized, and mailed about 2,000 survey pages. Approximately 50 percent of the surveys were returned to DWQ via the mail, or scanned and emailed. Surveys are mandatory only for SRF loan recipients.
Each survey consists of 50 to 150 questions/entries. Completing the surveys can be a burden to the utilities, and compiling 10,000 paper survey responses is a burden to staff. As a result, the MWPP surveys have been underutilized by DWQ, feedback to the utilities has been limited, and the physical and fiscal condition of Utah utilities is poorly understood.
Converting the MWPP to a paperless format will:
- Standardize the information submitted.
- Eliminate paper handling and mailings.
- Improve management of 2018 survey results, including the identification, prioritization, ranking, trend analysis, and reporting of results.
In addition, as part of the continuous improvement process, DWQ will update and improve survey questions to:
- Streamline and improve feedback.
- Simplify and standardize the process.
Combined, these changes will reduce survey administration time by 50 percent and provide DWQ with important information about industry capacity and needs.
Ongoing Continuous Improvement Projects
Storm water Permitting
DWQ now provides online permitting for storm water Utah Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (UPDES) general permits to ensure permits are processed in an efficient and timely manner. Hours spent processing permits have dropped dramatically since the online permitting system began in 2011.
Spills Incident Management
DWQ is working to increase the percentage of incidents with enforcement decisions (such as NOVs/Compliance Orders) within a target timeframe. The division completed work on a baseline in July 2016, and established a targeted timeframe and estimated staff hours in October 2016. The addition of a new Spills Coordinator with extensive spills experience has helped with this effort.
Comprehensive Permitting Issuance
DWQ updated the division’s project database to include major milestones and a tracking system of the full review process, as well as the steps for internal technical review. The division is continuously updating the system, which has become an effective tool for generating data and administrative reports.