Monday, February 23, 2015

Water Quality: Storm Water Pollution Affects All of Us

By: Rhonda Thiele and Jeanne Riley


Oily sheen in Mill Creek
Photo by Dan Griffin
If you heard the news reports last week about an oily sheen floating in Mill Creek, you probably also heard that it was traced back to a nearby storm drain. Sampling of the area near 3300 South and 700 East in Salt Lake City showed that the sheen came from a small amount of motor oil discharged into the water through a storm drain. While we still don’t know the original source of the oil, this incident reminds us how easily discharges into storm drains, even small ones, can contaminate our rivers, streams, and drinking water supplies.

Some people believe that anything that flows into a storm drain is basically “out-of-sight, out-of mind” and doesn’t cause any real harm. What many people don’t realize is that storm drains, unlike wastewater treatment plants, don’t treat the water before it reaches rivers or streams. Storm drains aren’t designed to remove pollutants, so pouring something down a storm drain is the same as pouring it directly into a stream.

The storm drains on your street are actually part of a larger water conveyance system of underground pipes, catch basins, curbs, gutters, ditches, and canals. Known as a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System, or MS4, this system is subject to regulation by the Division of Water Quality (DWQ) through an MS4 storm water permit. The permit requirements are intended to reduce pollutant discharges and meet water quality standards through the development and implementation of a Storm Water Management Program (SWMP). SWMP requirements are grouped into six minimum-control measures
  1. Public education and outreach
  2. Public involvement and participation
  3. Illicit discharge detection and elimination (IDDE)
  4. Construction site storm water runoff control
  5. Long-term storm water management in new development and redevelopment
  6. Pollution prevention and good housekeeping for municipal operations
John Hoggan, Salt Lake County Health Department, takes a sample
in Mill Creek. Photo by Dan Griffin.
Measures in the SWMP define roles and responsibilities for IDDE and provide education to the public on how to report suspicious discharges. In this recent incident, when a concerned citizen contacted the Salt Lake Fire Department about the sheen, the fire department notified DWQ and Salt Lake County Health. We, in turn, contacted the holder of the local MS4 permit, Salt Lake County. The County MS4 coordinators and the Salt Lake County Health Department investigated the complaint and attempted to track the discharge back to its source. DWQ conducted sampling to determine the nature of the discharge, and the Health Department placed absorbent booms in the creek to contain the contamination. This kind of interagency collaboration ensures that discharges are dealt with in an organized and timely manner.

While we don’t yet know how the motor oil made its way into Mill Creek, we do know that dumping pollutants into a storm drain is illegal. Not only is it illegal, dumping any material into a storm drain harms water quality. One gallon of motor oil dumped into a storm drain can pollute 250,000 gallons of drinking water. But storm water pollution can come from a number of sources, not just from illegal dumping. Substances from our homes and lawns can flow into storm drains and pollute our waters. These include:
  • Soap
  • Oil/transmission spills or leaks
  • Landscaping materials (topsoil, grass clippings, lawn debris)
  • Fertilizers and pesticides
  • Pet waste

But you can make a difference! Here are six easy steps, courtesy of the Salt Lake Storm Water Coalition, that you can take to reduce your contribution to storm water pollution:
  • Wash your car on the lawn or at a carwash
  • Mulch your grass clippings and leave them on the lawn
  • Put yard waste in a yard waste can or trash can
  • Pick up pet waste
  • Minimize your use of fertilizers and pesticides and keep them off the sidewalks
  • Clean up spills and leaks and dispose of the cleanup materials properly

Using these Best Management Practices at home can prevent storm water pollution and help keep our rivers and streams clean.

If you observe illegal dumping or see suspicious material in a waterway, contact your local health department immediately! If you live in Salt Lake County, you can call the Salt Lake County Health Department Emergency Number at (801) 580-6681. If you cannot reach your local health department, call DEQ’s 24-hour spills hotline at (801) 536-4123. Please include important details such as the address, description of the person or vehicle involved (if you observe illegal dumping), the time, and your name and contact information (unless you prefer to remain anonymous). Your help is vital to ensuring that we keep our rivers and streams clean and safe.

Rhonda Thiele

I am a graduate of Southeast Missouri State University with a Bachelor of Science in Aquatic Biology. I have been the MS4 Program Coordinator for DWQ for the last eight years. Prior to this, I worked for the Salt Lake County Health Department for 15 years in storm water management, emergency response, pollution prevention, and household hazardous waste. I served as a facilitator at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center for the Advanced Environmental Crimes Training Program. I also worked in Seattle, Washington in lake restoration for two years. I really enjoy my job. The MS4 program is very complex, and I have the opportunity to work closely with municipalities, EPA, and other states to help our permittees develop their storm water programs and protect Utah’s water quality. I enjoy spending time outdoors, gardening, playing guitar, and taking care of my numerous pets. 

Jeanne Riley

I joined the Utah Division of Water Quality as the Storm Water Specialist in 2014. Although relatively new to Utah, I have quickly fallen in love with the state and enjoy helping our communities manage their storm water runoff and better protect our water resources. My early career was spent as an environmental consultant in New England, southwest Montana, and the Lake Tahoe Basin. Originally from Massachusetts, I have a Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering and a Master of Science Degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. With my husband and two kids, I enjoy camping, hiking, traveling and especially skiing the greatest snow on earth in the great state of Utah. 


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Air Quality: Compliance Program Protects Air Quality

By: Jay Morris

Gravel pits are a minor source for air emissions
Did you know that there are over 1,500 stationary emission sources in Utah, along with several hundred federal and state air quality rules and regulations that cover these sources? When I first started performing air quality compliance inspections, I had no idea! Our program, which includes inspections, compliance assistance, and enforcement, protects the public and the environment from air pollution and assists businesses in meeting the terms of their permit. It’s a win-win proposition that reduces emissions and saves facilities time and money over the long run.

So what’s a stationary source, exactly? Well, it’s pretty much what you would think — an emission source that is sited at a specific location. There are two types of stationary sources: major and minor. A major source has the potential to emit at least 100 tons per year of any criteria pollutant, and a minor source has the potential to emit more than 5 tons but less than 100 tons per year.

Chad Gilgren (right) suits up for an inspection
The following compliance activities help major and minor sources meet the emission limits established in their permits:
  • Monitoring
  • Testing
  • Sampling
  • Record-keeping
  • Reporting
These requirements ensure that facilities test their equipment, monitor emissions, and submit regularly scheduled reports to the Division of Air Quality (DAQ) to demonstrate compliance with their permits.

My staff and I work with minor sources. You might be surprised by the different kinds of operations that qualify as minor sources: gravel pits, oil and gas facilities, chemical manufacturers, coal mines, and food processing operations. We even conduct inspections at manufacturing plants for diapers, airbags, and bowling balls!

We typically conduct an inspection of a minor stationary source once every three years. Our staff prepares for an inspection by reviewing all applicable rules, emission tests, compliance reports, and approval orders. Our inspections are unannounced, so naturally it seems like an inspector always shows up at the most inconvenient time! Once on site, we review all of the rules that apply to the source, review and record the operating parameters, look over the equipment, and request records.

Joe Rockwell prepares to inspect a food processing facility
After the source provides the requested information, we write up an inspection memo. This memo indicates whether or not we found the company to be in compliance with all of the rules. For the most part, the companies regulated by DAQ operate in compliance with the rules and regulations that apply to them. For those that are not in compliance, we initiate an enforcement action. This may involve the payment of a penalty, and companies are required to get back into compliance in a timely manner.

Over the past few years, DAQ has implemented over 30 new state rules to reduce emissions from area sources to meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for PM2.5. These rules apply to thousands of area sources. Area sources cover a wide range of small businesses and households, which make compliance inspections a little trickier. The new rules limit volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions in everything from consumer products to adhesives and sealants, surface coatings, degreasing and solvent cleaning operations, and graphic arts operations.

Residential construction is an area source for fugitive dust.
Because the businesses that use these VOC-emitting products are scattered over a wide area and aren’t subject to a minor source permit, we have been actively engaging in education and outreach to ensure that these businesses know about the new air quality requirements and understand the measures they can take to comply with the rules. The addition of these area source rules has made our inspection, compliance assistance, and education outreach efforts somewhat challenging. With a staff of seven inspectors to cover facilities across the state and our minor stationary sources and area sources running into the thousands, all of us have a lot of sites to visit!

The good news is we have one of the highest compliance rates in the country — 95+ percent of our permitted sources meet the requirements of their permits.

Want to learn more about our compliance program? You can visit our webpage or check out the Compliance Activity Summaries that we present to the Air Quality Board each month. If you think a site or a facility is potentially violating its permit, fill out our Electronic Complaint Form or call 801-536-4000. We appreciate hearing from you, and we investigate all complaints we receive.

I graduated in 1994 from Utah State University with a BS degree in Forest Management. I had a short career as a seasonal forester for the forest service and a couple of private companies in Arizona and Oregon before getting hired at DAQ as an environmental scientist in the compliance section in 1995. I spent 12 years in that job and absolutely loved learning about the many industries in Utah and traveling across the state conducting inspections. In 2007, I became the manager of the minor source compliance section and I'm still here! I work with an amazing staff and because of that, I thoroughly enjoy my job.

I have been married to my best friend for 22 years and I have four really awesome kids (three boys, one girl) ranging in age from 8 to 18. My family does everything together. We love to spend time in the outdoors hunting, fishing, camping, and boating. We also love to play soccer, shoot guns, visit new places, and of course, eat ice cream! We are all ice cream fanatics!


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

DEQ: Couple Share Commitment for Environment

By: Donna Spangler

Wintertime means lots of fine particulates in the air, the oh-so-dreaded inversions. But it’s also February, and that means something else is in the air – love.

Just ask Deborah McMurtrie, part of the Division of Air Quality’s Technical Analysis section, where her group collects and manages emissions information in a database of industrial emission sources, and her husband Jim Martin, a hydrogelogist with the Division of Drinking Water, responsible for making sure new and existing sources of drinking water meet federal protection standards.

Together, they share a passion for Utah’s environment that spans 48 combined years. That, and a 5 acre alpaca ranch in Kamas where they practice eco-farming.

With 21 alpacas, four llamas, two horses, five dogs, three cats and 16 chickens, their Kamas ranch is considered by the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food as a small Animal Feed Operation, or AFO. These types of agricultural operations have the potential for adding polluting runoff to the waterways, and management practices are developed to control and prevent such runoff.

Last summer the couple participated in the Summit County Community Solar program, and installed 24 solar panels on their barn to “practice what they preach.”  The panels should generate the property’s full demand for electricity. And they consult with the Federal Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Services for advice on water retention, wastewater management and erosion prevention. They even have built an oxygenated composter.

“We want to improve our land, keep the pastures healthy, and manage any runoff,” says Jim.

Deb has worked for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality for 20 years and Jim for 28, but they did not meet until 10 years ago at an office Halloween party. Jim was dressed as a mountain man, which caught Deb’s attention. Their relationship grew organically, taking shape from the interests they enjoy.

“I enjoy knitting and spinning and was looking to expand on those interests, particularly post-retirement” Deb says, which is why she began raising alpacas. She shears her alpacas (some named after preferred beverages: Remy Martin, Cuervo and Porter). She sends the fleeces to a Utah mill that spins it into yarn she then sells. Jim is a part-time professional actor who introduced Deb to the historical mountain man rendezvous where they reenact the fur trapper period of the 1820s to 1840s.

“Jim makes his own clothing, and many of the tools needed to be a fur trapper during that period” Deb points out. “It’s really fascinating and fun.”

Like many successful working couples they share the responsibilities. For them that means tending to the animals – which often brings chaos and surprises. “This morning the cats gifted us with three dead voles deposited in the kitchen, and when I let the dogs out I was greeted with the pungent aroma of annoyed skunk,” says Deb, who recounted the incident in a recent Facebook posting.

Jim, a native Utahn, has also made a name for himself as a rugged, kilt-wearing man’s man kind of model for artists and photographers, with images of him hanging as far afield as Eugene, Oregon and Paris, France.

What does this amazing couple plan to do to celebrate Valentine’s Day? Feed the alpacas, of course. And do their part to make Utah a cleaner, better place to live.

There are a few couples who work at DEQ. Do you work with a partner? Share your secrets for success in the comments.

I am the Communications Director for the Department of Environmental Quality who met my husband of 15 years while working at the Deseret News. We both enjoy the outdoors where I volunteer for my husband’s nonprofit organization, the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance.