The frequency of oil and chemical spills in Utah waters has increased in recent years. 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.
A $7.3 million dam-rehabilitation project on Tibble Fork Reservoir triggered an unexpectedly large release of sediment into the North Fork of the American Fork River on August 20, 2016, after crews began draining the 10-acre lake. While federal and local officials anticipated some sediment transport downstream as the reservoir was being drained, the volume outpaced predictions and best management practices (BMPs) required under the project’s U.S. Army Corps of Engineer (USACE) National 404 permit (28.03 KB) to protect water quality. A Notice of Violation (NOV) (529.2 KB) was issued on September 28, 2016, and the Settlement Agreement (5.03 MB) reached with the North Utah County Water Conservancy District (NUCWCD) required it to implement a sediment remediation plan (186.41 KB) that included sediment cleanup and removal, waste hauling and disposal, and a sampling protocol going forward.
The DWQ-mandated environmental-monitoring project on the American Fork River continued during 2018. In addition to collecting samples of sediment, NUCWCD, working in conjunction with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, collected samples of fish, insects, and other macroinvertebrates on August 2018 and had them analyzed for heavy-metal content to determine the effect of the 2016 sediment discharge on the living organisms in the ecosystem.
Based on the preliminary results, the concentrations of metals in the sediments in the North Fork of the American Fork River below Tibble Fork Dam appear to have returned to the levels believed to have existed prior to the 2016 sediment discharge that clogged the river. This, when combined with water-sampling results from the past two years, show that the contaminated sediments have been largely removed from the river and no significant sediment contamination from the reservoir remains in the river.
Preliminary results of the analysis of the fish tissue were encouraging as well. None of the fish samples collected at seven different points in the American Fork River drainage above and below the reservoir contained heavy-metal concentrations above the EPA Regional Screening Levels. However, due to ambiguous results some samples are being re-analyzed to verify that concentrations of arsenic are indeed below the Screening Levels.
Analysis of the heavy metals content of aquatic insects and other macroinvertebrates collected in the river confirmed results of an analysis performed in 2017 at Timpanogos Cave National Monument by the National Park Service. These results showed that some metals, notably cadmium and zinc, are accumulating in these organisms. However, because the highest concentrations of metals were detected in samples collected above the reservoir, this condition might be due to the normal, background levels of heavy metals caused by historic mining activities and not from the 2016 sediment discharge.
In October 2018, DWQ returned to Tibble Fork Reservoir to collect samples of sediment from the heavily-used beach and recreation areas and the inlet where the North Fork of the American Fork River enters the reservoir. Preliminary analysis of the samples from the beach show the sediment contains low levels of heavy metals when compared to the reservoir sediments near the inlet. The concentrations of heavy metals in samples collected near the inlet were similar to the concentrations detected in the reservoir prior to the 2016 release.
Success Story: Price River Crude Oil and Coal Spills
On the evening of July 12, 2018, a truck hauling crude oil crashed on the bridge over the Price River at U.S. Highway 6 just north of Carbonville, near Price, Utah. The accident caused a spill of up to 4,000 gallons of crude oil onto the road surface, which flowed across the bridge and into a storm drain that led directly to the river. As many as 1,000 gallons of crude oil were estimated to have flowed into the river, creating the potential for significant long-term environmental impacts downstream.
Fortunately, due to its chemical composition, the crude oil began to harden as it spilled onto the road surface, so a smaller amount of the oil spilled from the trailer actually made it into the river. When the oil hit the river, it solidified, effectively locking it in place and preventing it from spreading very far downstream. The cleanup company hired by the owners of the truck was able to capture most of the oil with downstream booms and then pick up the rest along the riverbanks.
Water samples collected the next day by DWQ showed only a small amount of hydrocarbon compounds in the water that rapidly dissipated farther downstream. After the cleanup was completed a week later, water samples collected from the Price River didn’t contain any detectable amounts of oil or other hydrocarbons, confirming that the cleanup was complete.
On September 22, 2018, there was another major discharge into the Price River. A train carrying a large load of coal derailed, and the contents of as many as eight coal cars were discharged into the river. While the coal did not chemically contaminate the river, the coal dust increased the turbidity of the river and forced the temporary shut-off of Price River water to the treatment plant downstream. The cleanup of the debris and coal was completed recently.
DWQ issued Notices of Violation to the responsible parties in both incidents.