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Testing the Waters at the Inland Port

Picture of a stormwater monitor at the future site of the Utah Inland Port

Last month, scientists from DEQ’s Division of Water Quality installed stormwater monitors around the future site of the Utah Inland Port.

By Jared Mendenhall

Picture of a water quality scientist installing an automatic pump in a canal at the Utah Inland Port.

When a heavy rainstorm or snowmelt event happens, runoff passes over a solar-powered pump. This pump sucks up a half-gallon of water.

As summer ended, scientists from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) Division of Water Quality (DWQ) installed stormwater monitors in the canals zig-zagging along the Northwest Quadrant of Salt Lake City. The canals move runoff from rain and snowmelt to the Great Salt Lake. The monitors will provide data about current stormwater conditions in the area of Utah’s inland port and help establish a monitoring baseline for any potential effects the port will have on water quality.

Water quality concerns along the shores of the Great Salt Lake include heavy metals such as mercury, selenium and trash. In high concentrations, these pollutants harm wildlife—especially birds.

For Utah residents, the Great Salt Lake and its water quality are important economic drivers. The lake’s mineral and brine shrimp industries are valued at more than $350 million.

Protecting the lake is about more than just economics. Lake-effect snowfalls account for 10% of the average precipitation of Salt Lake City. This snowfall, and the subsequent snowmelt, eventually brings drinking water to one of the driest regions of the United States.

Understanding the importance of the lake, the Utah Inland Port Authority’s (UIPA) has made sustainability one of its key values, “Environmental sustainability and economic development are not mutually exclusive. In fact, sustainable practices reduce risk. By lessening the overall impact on the environment and human health, we can ensure that Utah’s logistics network will be competitive and have long-term value. The global marketplace is changing, and the UIPA is positioning to follow that shift to increased economic and environmental success.”

Sometimes good intentions can come with a healthy dose of skepticism, though. Some residents have expressed concerns that an increase in rail and truck traffic associated with the port could have environmental impacts on water quality in the Great Salt Lake.

To ensure the protection of the Great Salt Lake, DWQ developed a Sampling and Analysis Plan (SAP) to check the effects of the inland port on water quality at the lake and the surrounding wetlands. The plan focuses on the change in specific water quality parameters associated with stormwater runoff. Stormwater runoff comes from rain and snowmelt events that flow over land or impervious surfaces. These impervious surfaces usually include paved streets, parking lots, and building rooftops, and does not soak into the ground. The runoff picks up pollutants such as trash, chemicals, oils, nutrients, heavy metals, pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides, and dirt/sediment. Stormwater can also be contaminated by sanitary sewer overflows and cross-connections.

Monitoring the stormwater will determine the effects of development in the area. The SAP defines the data quality objectives, sampling and analytical procedures, safety considerations, documentation and reporting requirements to be implemented by the DWQ.

Water quality monitoring activities will provide the Utah Inland Port Authority and DEQ scientists with valuable data regarding water quality around the UIP. These environmental samples will help to address stormwater-related pollution associated with the Utah Inland Port development.

The stormwater sampling devises take automatic samples. When a heavy rainstorm or snowmelt event happens, runoff passes over a solar-powered pump. This pump sucks up a half-gallon of water. Then, a text message is sent to the scientists at DWQ who collect the water within 24 hours. The samples are then delivered to the Utah Public Health Laboratory where it is analyzed for heavy metals, hydrocarbons and nutrients.

To learn more about water quality sampling at the Utah Inland Port, check out DWQ’s Sampling and Analysis Plan.

I am a public information officer for Utah DEQ and a former marketer and magazine editor. Follow me on Instagram @Jarv801.