Monday, October 20, 2014

SUCCESS Framework: Tracking Increases Tank Compliance

By: Doug Hansen

The SUCCESS framework is Governor Herbert’s initiative to improve performance in state government by increasing operational efficiencies. In August 2014, DEQ logged its first project into the Success Management Information System (SMIS), the reporting tool used by the Office of Management and Budget to track the implementation of SUCCESS projects.

DEQ’s project, implemented by the Division of Environmental Response and Remediation (DERR), tracks and reports the rate at which owners meet Underground Storage Tank  (UST) program requirements. These requirements, known as Significant Operational Compliance (SOC) measures, were established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to detect and prevent leaks from tanks.

USTs store petroleum or hazardous substances. Leaks from these tanks can contaminate ground water, drinking water, and soils. Preventing and detecting UST releases is important for protecting human health and the environment.

In March 2012, 75 percent of tank facilities were in compliance with the SOC measures at the time of inspection. We rolled out two initiatives to improve this compliance rate:
  • Training program for tank operators
  • Notices to operators to remind them when tests are due

The training program, started in January 2012, helps tank operators stay in compliance by showing them how to prevent and detect leaks from their tank systems. Two years after instituting the program, we found that compliance rates had increased to 83 percent. This 8 percent increase in compliance demonstrates that this training helps operators understand requirements for UST operation.

Even though training improved compliance, it was clear that more could be done to assist tank owners who still struggled to follow the regulations. After looking at inspection results over several years, we determined that the most common problem involved operators who were not conducting the tank tests they were required to perform every year or every three years.

In January 2014, we implemented a new program to remind tank operators when their tests were due. Because we enter test results into a database when we receive them, we can track due dates for the next tests. This allows us to send a reminder about a month before the test comes due. We initially sent out nearly 400 reminders every month.

We have seen an additional 4 percent increase in compliance rates since we began this program nine months ago, bringing UST compliance up to 87 percent. Our inspections are more efficient because we already have the tank test results and can focus on equipment checks rather than record keeping. We expect to see additional improvements from these efforts.

UST program staff are excited about the opportunity to continue to work with the tank community to reduce risks to the environment through improved compliance rates. DEQ will continue to report the results of this project to the Governor’s Office as part of the SUCCESS Framework initiative.

Want to learn more about the governor’s SUCCESS framework? Check out this video from the Office of Management and Budget that explains how the program aims to improve efficiencies at state agencies. Visit our web pages to learn more about the UST program and the ways we work with tank operators to ensure that underground tanks are functioning properly and are protective of human health and the environment.

I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical and Fuels Engineering from the University of Utah in 1995. My last nineteen years have been spent within the Department of Environmental Quality. I spent the first thirteen years of my career cleaning up spills from underground storage tanks, and the last five trying to prevent them. I also spent one year on special assignment working on energy and sustainability issues. When I am not in the office, I enjoy spending time with my family, working in my yard and garden, and going to Utah football games (GO UTES!).


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Water Quality: Sampling Confirms Toxic Bloom

By: Hilary Arens

If you’ve ever recreated at one of Utah’s lakes or reservoirs during the late summer or early fall, you’ve probably seen areas where greenish scum was floating on the water or collecting on the shore. What you probably didn’t know was that this bright-green water is a sign of an algal bloom. These blooms are caused by a rapid increase in a type of bacteria that can produce toxins that are harmful to humans, pets, wildlife, and fish.

When the Utah County Health Department notified the Division of Water Quality (DWQ) that a dog had died after swimming in Utah Lake’s green waters over the weekend, we immediately took action to sample the water for the presence of cyanotoxins, the poisons that can sometimes be produced by the cyanobacteria in the bloom.

Although algae are a natural part of many freshwater ecosystems, under the right conditions these populations can explode to create large algal blooms. Cyanobacteria—sometimes known as blue-green algae because like algae, they have the ability to photosynthesize—can multiply when elevated levels of nutrients, warm temperatures, and calm water combine to create the perfect environment for rapid growth. Sampling is critical, because the only way to know if a cyanobacteria bloom is harmful is to test for the presence of toxins in the water.

As soon as DWQ was notified about the possible toxic bloom, we sent our scientists to the Lindon Harbor Jetty to begin sampling. We took our first samples in the early afternoon of Monday, October 6, 2014, in the area where the dog played, on the shoreline, and within the boundaries of the marina.

Image Credit: KSL-TV
Before we began sampling, we performed a visual assessment to look for the telltale green color, large concentrations of algae, floating mats, and any residue along the shoreline. This helped us identify the best locations to collect samples. 

We followed Standard Operating Procedures established by our division to ensure that the samples we collect gave us an accurate representation of the water conditions. In this case, we performed grab samples where we hold the sample bottle in our hand, tilt it, and allow it to fill below the surface of the water. We also wore protective gear, like boots and gloves, to make sure our skin didn’t come into contact with any toxins that may have been present in the water.

After we collected our samples, we put them in a cooler to keep them at the appropriate temperature. We immediately shipped the cooler to a lab in Florida that specializes in cyanotoxin testing and analysis and put in for a rush order so we could get the results quickly.

Last Thursday, we got the lab results back. The lab analysis looked for four cyanotoxins associated with cyanobacteria, and the tests for the sample taken north of the jetty detected microcystins at 11 micrograms per liter (ug/l), which is above the public health advisory level of 6 ug/l found in some other states.

DWQ conducted additional sampling in the lake and downstream areas, like the outlet to the Jordan River, to determine the extent of the cyanotoxin contamination. Late last Friday, we received the results from the samples we collected Wednesday. These latest results indicate that the toxin levels have dropped below the thresholds used by other states to trigger public health advisories. Good news.

We will reevaluate the bloom early this week to determine if we need to do any additional monitoring. In the meantime, the Utah County Health Department is advising people to avoid swimming or boating in areas with bright-green algae growth and keep their pets out of the water.

We will continue to post updates of sampling results from the Utah Lake algal bloom on our website. If you’d like to learn more about the ways DWQ is working to reduce nutrient pollution our lake and streams, check out our state nutrient strategy. You can also read previous blogs by DWQ’s John Mackey on Holding the Line on Nutrient Pollution and Paul Krauth on when It’s Not Healthy Being Green for more information.

I've worked for the Utah Division of Water Quality for five and a half years in the Watershed Protection Section. My focus has been on the Jordan River Basin and now has expanded to include the Utah Lake watershed. I have a master degree in Watershed Science from Colorado State and an undergraduate degree in Biology and Environmental Science from Colby College. Outside of work, I love being on rivers, skiing, biking and taking my toddler twins where few toddlers usually go.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Tiptoeing Into the Hybrid World

By: Donna Kemp Spangler


Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: I looooove my convertible. Or I should say I loved it. Yes, I am bidding goodbye to one of my friends. And I am saying hello to a new friend.

I have become increasingly aware that my beloved friend was not the most environmentally sensitive vehicle I could be driving. At 12 years old, it was not all that fuel efficient for the 35-mile commute from Ogden to Department of Environmental Quality offices in Salt Lake City. And the engine is several generations removed from the lower emissions performance of new models out there.

And as pollution guilt crept deeper into my psyche, my husband, Jerry, suggested I look closer at a hybrid: a vehicle that uses a combination of traditional gasoline supplemented by electricity. And he insisted I look at a new one.

Well, I am not one to disappoint, so we began researching the plethora of hybrid models now on showroom floors. What did we look at? Jerry was all about safety ratings in front-end and side crashes, and state-of-the-art braking systems for Utah’s tricky winter driving. For me, it was all about fuel and emissions ratings.

To understand these nuances I was coached by Utah Division of Air Quality Director Bryce Bird. And I reached out to friends and colleagues who had hybrids.

Most people can read a dealer sticker to find out the EPA mileage rating on a vehicle. But there is also something tucked near the bottom of the sticker that rates the emissions on an EPA pollution standard of 1 to 10, so-called “smog ratings” with 1 being a gas-guzzling, tailpipe-belching behemoth and 10 being, for all intents and purposes, an electrical vehicle with no emissions.

Anything rated a 7 or higher is considered to be the gold standard for protecting the environment. Starting in 2012, EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) implemented the most dramatic overhaul to vehicle fuel economy labels since they were first introduced more than 35 years ago. According to the EPA, “Car buyers now have more information than ever before-- including fuel economy, fuel costs, and environmental impacts such as smog and greenhouse gas ratings-- for all new vehicles, including advanced technologies such as electric cars and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs).”

As Jerry and I immersed ourselves in the research, we found that not all hybrids are created equal. Some of the larger ones were not all that fuel efficient and carried pollution ratings of 5 or 6 – virtually the same rating as non-hybrid vehicles in the same class.

My new best friend has a mileage rating of 45 miles per gallon (I am so excited that I am getting more than 50 mpg through my first three fill-ups). And it had a smog rating of 7, which is at the high end of the spectrum of being environmentally friendly.

I will miss my convertible. But if it helps improve Utah’s air then it is a sacrifice I am willing to make. At least my new friend has a sunroof.

Consider the benefits of a Clean Vehicle:

  • UDOT C-Decal to travel in HOV lanes even with no passengers 
For More Information on Clean Vehicles, visit DAQ’s Clean Vehicle Program. Want to buy a Smart Car? Read Glade Soward’s blog on how to find a clean car. 

I am the Communications Director for DEQ and write a monthly blog post. You can read my previous blog posts here at