Water Quality: The Power of Sister Agencies

By Suzan Tahir

Utah Lake

Utah Lake

I have the privilege to live in one of the most beautiful states in the USA. Our state is an incredible and endless resource for hiking, skiing, backpacking, rock climbing, sightseeing, and other outdoors and recreational activities. We have extremely beautiful nature in abundance, but one of our most precious natural resources — w-a-t-e-r — is scarce here. Luckily, I work in a field and division that always strives to protect and maintain the physical, chemical, and biological integrity of our waters, our most valuable resource.

I lead the field efforts for several projects in the Division of Water Quality’s (DWQ) Monitoring Section. Some of my projects deal with end-of-pipe water quality and its impact on receiving waterbodies. Waste Load Allocation (WLA) projects investigate the impact(s) that point source water quality parameters such as nutrients, dissolved oxygen, pH, and salinity may pose on the receiving waterbodies. Others have a more holistic approach as they target sustainable and long-term protection of unique, delicate, resilient, very dynamic, and beautiful ecosystems like the Great Salt Lake.

Deployment sites for sondes in Utah Lake. Missing sonde located at the southernmost site.

Deployment sites for sondes in Utah Lake.
Missing sonde located at the southernmost site.

As part of our water quality monitoring program, we recently deployed three multi-parameter sondes in three different locations across Utah Lake to continuously record water quality parameters such as temperature, specific conductance, dissolved oxygen, pH, turbidity and chlorophyll over about two months.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature does not always collaborate with us in our field efforts. A few rain storms hit the lake during the analysis period. As a result, two weeks after deployment, one of the sondes detached from the buoy due to wave action in the lake.

We attempted to find the sonde several times. Our first attempt was on October 31, 2015. A diving team with the Division of Wildlife Resources, Candace Hutchinson and Mike Slater, helped us. Everything seemed perfect. It was a lovely day: blue skies, flat lake surface (at least for the first part of the day), warm and sunny weather.

Unfortunately, the water temperature was really cold. Candace and Mike had to use wetsuits, which did not keep them insulated. For DWQ, safety is our main priority when we’re in the field. Candace and Mike wanted to search until they had almost exhausted their air. My DWQ colleague, Carl Adams, and I wanted our sister agency’s team to work within their comfort zones and not push any further. Hypothermia is a serious issue, so we stopped our first search effort within 30 minutes.

Carl Adams, Watershed Protection Section Manager, helping with the field efforts

Carl Adams, Watershed Protection Section Manager, helping with the field efforts

In November, Carl contacted the Diving Team with Utah Highway Patrol to ask for help with a second search attempt. The response was instantaneous and very moving. One could feel their huge support and willingness to help us in their voices and eyes. It was a very powerful moment. Seeing our sister agencies being there for us, supporting and offering to us all they had “AGAIN” was memorable.

Jeff Arbon, with the Division of Parks and Recreation, drove his agency’s boat all the way from Moab for this effort. Seven members of Utah Highway Patrol — Sergeants Jason Kelsey, Greg Kelsey, Wayne Gifford, Michael Tueller, Wendell Nope, and Troopers Colby Vanderbeek and Jason Whitehead — escorted us on November 11, 2015, for our search attempt. They did not even hesitate slightly to use their valuable sonar.

We were very positive and enthusiastic because we had everything we needed to find the sonde. Initially, they tried to locate it using the sonar along with Trooper Vanderbeek’s diving expertise. After about an hour, field conditions made things challenging for the sonar. Slowly, I could see the dissatisfaction and questions lingering in everybody’s minds. “Was it stolen? Did somebody detach it from the buoy? Did it get detached by the wave actions during the storms and get buried inside the soft sediments?”

Stolen!!! That was the last verdict. But, I was not quite comfortable quitting. Normally, I quit only if 1) it is a matter of safety or 2) I’ve exhausted all my options. I knew we were still not there, not quite yet.

Trooper Colby Vanderbeek with the missing sonde

Trooper Colby Vanderbeek
with the missing sonde

The diving team had a metal detector. After ensuring Trooper Vanderbeek was not feeling cold already, I asked if we could try one last time using the metal detector. Within five minutes, Trooper Vanderbeek emerged from the murky Utah Lake waters. We all thought that the metal detector search did not give positive results too, and he was done with the search.

Then we realized he was holding this pricey instrument in his hands.

Disappointment, clouds and coldness were replaced with joy, laughter, happiness and the feeling of accomplishment. We did it! Thank you all!

W~A~T~E~R = Water Ain’t the Endless Resource!!!! Please, remember this fact every time you use water or you are in, around, above, or underneath this precious resource!
Suzan Tahir

Suzan Tahir

In 2003, I received my Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering degree from Middle East Technical University (Ankara, Turkey). Three years after my graduation, I had the great opportunity to work with the UNDP-ACT (Cyprus), where I worked with professionals from different disciplines. In 2007 I received my Master of Science degree from Bradley University, Illinois. In 2008, I moved to Utah. I have been with DEQ/DWQ for almost five years now. Currently, I am working towards my PhD degree at Utah State University with a great advisor (Karin Kettenring) and very supportive co-advisor (Michelle Baker). If I do not travel and drive for my work, I normally like to drive and take trips to enjoy nature, cultures, cities, and wilderness. I have a feeling I was born for canyoneering. I also have a very deep passion for hiking, white water rafting, rock climbing, backpacking, scuba diving, Huskies and Akitas. I was born and raised in Bulgaria, have lived in different countries, and currently live in Salt Lake City. I love my job a lot, because we are like a huge family helping and supporting each other and our communities!