2018 State of the Environment Report (WQ)

Water Quality Monitoring

Under the Clean Water Act, DWQ is required to protect the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of state waters. The Monitoring Section monitors all surface waters, including lakes and reservoirs, streams (wadeable and non-wadeable), wetlands, and some groundwater to assess the quality of these water resources so DWQ can protect them for their beneficial uses, such as drinking water, recreation, agriculture, and aquatic life.

Water-quality monitoring programs provide data to support DWQ’s efforts to develop and refine water-quality standards, report on water-quality conditions, list impaired waters, issue and enforce discharge permits, manage nonpoint sources of pollution, protect high-quality waters, set priorities for water-quality management, track changes in water quality over time, and evaluate the effectiveness of restoration and protection actions.

The DWQ monitoring program has three different field programs that collect data to support DWQ’s work to protect the state’s water quality:

  1. Core Programs (continuous, ongoing monitoring programs)
    • Ambient intensive monitoring programBiological sampling programs
      • Utah Comprehensive Assessment of Stream Ecosystems (UCASE)
      • National Aquatic Resource Surveys (NARS)
    • Priority lakes program
    • High-frequency data program
  2. Programmatic Surveys
    • Harmful algal blooms (HABs) sampling
    • Utah fish-tissue contamination program
    • Nonpoint source (NPS) monitoring
    • Utah Lake
    • E-coli monitoring program
    • Wetland monitoring program
  3. Incident Response (data needs for unforeseen releases/discharges)
    • Oil spills
    • Illegal discharges
    • Mine spills or releases
    • Fish kills
    • Sewage leaks

Success Story: Harmful Algal Bloom (HABs) Monitoring Program

HABs Monitoring

In 2018, the Monitoring Section was able to hire dedicated staff for statewide monitoring for the first time, thanks to legislative funding for harmful algal blooms (HABs). The Section struggled in previous years to respond to HABs incidents due to a lack of available resources as most staff are collecting data for other statewide-monitoring programs during the field season.

The additional funding made it possible for DWQ to hire two seasonal water-quality technicians to address data gaps and deficiencies in response time during blooms. The field crew conducted regular HABs sampling throughout the state, responded quickly to sampling needs for emerging blooms, and collected baseline data on a variety of water bodies. Data from samples collected by the HABs monitoring crew provided critical information for local health departments, farmers, ranchers, and recreationists across the state. DWQ hopes to continue this valuable monitoring program pending continued funding.

Success Story: National Rivers and Streams Assessment (NRSA)

The National Rivers and Streams Assessment (NRSA) is a collaborative survey by federal, state, and tribal agencies to determine the extent to which rivers and streams support healthy biological conditions and to assess the major stressors that impact them. The survey supports a longer-term goal: to determine whether rivers and streams are getting cleaner and how to best invest in protecting and restoring them. The NRSA survey is incorporated under a broader survey known as the National Aquatic Resource Survey (NARS) that addresses other surface-water resource types. Other surveys, including NRSA, that are associated with the NARS surveys include:

DWQ has been participating in these surveys since 2008. Monitoring for each resource type occurs on a six-year rotation. The current focus is on NRSA for the 2018-2019 field seasons. In 2018, the Monitoring Section visited 18 sites (wadeable and non-wadeable river and stream systems). Sixteen remaining sites will be visited during the 2019 field season.

The NARS program is an excellent example of government agencies work collaboratively to meet a common goal. DWQ uses much of the data collected for the national surveys for its state biological sampling program (UCASE). The division receives additional monies from the EPA for participating in these surveys. DWQ uses this money to enhance its ongoing/internal monitoring programs.

Success Story: San Juan Watershed Monitoring Program

Lake Powell Coring Project

The San Juan Watershed, located in the Four Corners Area, spans several states and tribal lands and includes the San Juan River, Animas River, and Lake Powell. Aquatic resources in the watershed are used for a variety of purposes including drinking water, agriculture, recreation, and sustaining ecological health. On August 5, 2015, a release from the Gold King Mine (GKM) sent three million gallons of mine water 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.

In response to the spill, EPA, the states, and tribes in the watershed formed a multijurisdictional, collaborative group to improve understanding of the impacts of mining in the watershed. The three primary goals for the newly-formed San Juan Watershed Program:

  1. Conduct watershed-wide water-quality monitoring.
  2. Communicate the condition of the watershed to the public.
  3. Conduct research activities and gather information to inform effective decision-making.

The U.S. Congress authorized appropriations of $4 million per year from 2017–2021 to fund these activities under the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act. Several projects are currently underway in the watershed, including a long-term water quality monitoring program, a source-identification study that examines mining versus non-mining sources of metals, and analysis of existing water-quality and sediment data to determine spatial and temporal trends.

In 2018, Utah received $900,000 to conduct a sediment-coring study in Lake Powell to extract, examine, and analyze a series of sediment cores. These cores will help scientists determine the potential risks from metals when sediments mobilize in the water during future events (e.g., flash floods, spring runoff, etc.). The study will also attempt to attribute sediment and associated metals to specific sources in the watershed. Coring work began on November 5, 2018, and continued for approximately a month. Preliminary results are expected early next year.

The true success of the San Juan Watershed Program is the collaboration, coordination, and communication between so many entities dedicated to better understanding of the watershed and working together to identify restoration strategies. The group met recently in Denver, Colorado, to plan the next round of projects. Several ideas on the table include the development of a watershed model and establishing a formal watershed group. While the impact of mining on water resources is the current focus, the group is poised to address a number of water-quality issues in the San Juan Watershed in future years.