Monday, March 23, 2015

Drinking Water: Rural Water Conference Provides Training, Builds Relationships

By: Michael Grange

Well inspection
Safe, clean drinking water is important to Utah residents, whether they live in a large metropolitan area or a small, rural community. But did you know that 75 percent of Utah’s community water systems serve less than 3,300 people, and that 50 percent serve less than 500 people? While these small systems serve fewer customers than large municipal systems, they face similar training, certification, and reporting requirements.

The Division of Drinking Water (DDW), in partnership with the Rural Water Association of Utah (RWAU), provides year-round support to these small-system operators. The annual RWAU conference provides us with a unique opportunity to work one-on-one with these operators on system requirements, reporting, funding, and plan review.

The operators of these smaller water systems, many of whom work part-time, must ensure that the water they deliver meets state and federal requirements for clean drinking water. This responsibility entails training, certification, knowledge of ever-changing drinking-water rules, monitoring, reporting, and planning. It can be a daunting task, and we are there to help.

Photo credit: RWAU
Over 1,800 people attended this year’s RWAU conference in St. George, Utah, which gave us an opportunity to not only provide information and assistance to our system operators but also build personal relationships with them. Almost half of our DDW staff was on hand for the conference, offering everything from group presentations to individual consultations.

We offered workshops for conference attendees on a wide variety of topics:

Our staff was also available to help operators prepare their annual Consumer Confidence Reports (CCRs). These reports provide consumers with information on the quality of their drinking water and are often distributed in customer’s water bills.

One of the most important offerings at the conference is the water operator training and certification. All system operators are required to be certified to ensure the sanitary quality, safety, and adequacy of the water in community systems. Registrants attended training sessions Monday through Thursday and took the exam on Friday. 

Annual "Best-Tasting Water" Competition. Photo credit: RWAU

DDW also covered a broad range of issues during their presentations to the group. Some of the featured sessions included:

New this year to the conference was a session specifically for county planners that introduced them to the roles and responsibilities of the different agencies involved in drinking-water system management and regulation, including DDW, the Public Utilities Commission, and local health departments.

All in all, we were very busy during the week of the conference. To give you an idea of what we were able to accomplish in those five days, here is an overview of what we did:
  • Made 24 presentations
  • Prepared 120 CCRs and 140 other reports
  • Conducted 70 engineering consultations

In addition, eighty-two operators participated in the four-day operator certification training and took the operator certification exam on Friday.

Most importantly, we were able to reach out to system operators we aren’t able to see in-person on a regular basis and talk one-on-one with them. Building and maintaining relationships with our operators is an important part of our program, and we were happy that we could provide them with personalized assistance during the conference.

Want to know more about your drinking water? Check out your Consumer Confidence Report for an overview of the water quality from your drinking water system. Discover what steps you need to take if your water service is interrupted during an emergency. Find out the rating DDW gave your water system. For specific questions, feel free to contact our office at 801-536.4200.

I joined DDW in October 2006 and became Section Manager in October 2011. As the Construction Assistance Section Manager, I oversee the financial assistance programs offered by the Division. I earned degrees in Chemical Engineering and Business Administration from the University of Utah. My work experience includes 14 years in the private sector as a laboratory technician, process engineer, and consulting engineer focusing on water and waste water treatment and environmental assessment and remediation.


Monday, March 16, 2015

DEQ: Collaboration and Credibility Keys to Legislative Success

By: Scott Baird


Photo credit: Mike Renlund
With the strike of the gavel last Thursday night at midnight, the 2015 Utah legislative session officially ended, and many of us at DEQ officially returned to a more predictable work schedule. 

The last forty-five days have been exciting, exhausting, and everything in between. As I look back over the past month and a half and think about what worked well and what we could do better, two things stand out.

1. Willingness to have an open dialogue and hear all sides of an issue leads to better solutions.

No one has all the answers. We believe that reaching out to ALL interested stakeholders helps our agency understand different points of view on particular issues. This give-and-take results in better policy, more buy-in, and greater likelihood for success. We are committed to working with all our stakeholders and are grateful to the people who came forward to their share ideas and work with us to find solutions. 

The willingness to meet and collaborate led to one of the more rewarding moments of this session. I observed environmental advocates and industry representatives working together toward common ground on a specific bill. Their combined power to arrive at a legislative solution from seemingly opposite sides showed me what’s possible when we create opportunities for open dialogue. 

2. The work we do every day at DEQ and the excellent reputation of our employees have a direct impact on our ability to move forward legislation that benefits the environment and the people of Utah.

Executive Director Amanda Smith explains
the Utah Mapping Partnership

The quality of our work and the way we respond to concerned citizens and the businesses we regulate sow the seeds for legislative success. Time and time again, we heard from legislators that while they may not like some of our environmental regulations, they are grateful that they can work with a local state agency rather than the EPA.

Every day we have the opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to safeguarding human health and quality of life by protecting and enhancing the environment. Utah citizens, our regulated partners, and members of the legislature have confidence in us because we treat them with respect and maintain the highest levels of professionalism. This doesn’t mean that we will always agree with our stakeholders. But our track record of providing high-quality scientific information combined with excellent customer service helps build their trust and strengthens our credibility.

Now, for those of you that are interested, I’ve included a high-level summary of our budget allocations as well as some of the environmental legislation that passed during the 2015 session.

Budget Adjustment

Every state agency was required to take a two-percent cut in its general fund appropriation. In our case, this reduction came from the Division of Radiation Control. The agency is currently looking for ways to address this budget cut internally.

Budget Allocations

One-time funding to provide support for high-resolution aerial photography, process improvements to the State Geographic Information System (GIS) Database, and support to assert state stewardship through the public lands survey system (PLSS). These mapping improvements will give DEQ and other state agencies an unprecedented opportunity to collaborate and share land-based information.

Ongoing funding for additional attorney general support for air quality issues. This funding will provide the Division of Air Quality (DAQ) with adequate legal review and support to handle the increase in permit appeals and administrative hearings.

Ongoing funding for compliance officers as well as one-time funding for a vehicle to facilitate compliance visits. DAQ recently issued over 250 new permits to oil and gas sources, with over 325 additional new sources in the queue. Current projections show a growth trend of 300-500 new sources per year. This funding will allow the DAQ compliance program to keep up with growing demand for inspections and oversight.

One-time funding for additional research to improve our understanding of the chemistry and meteorology that lead to Utah’s unique air pollution problems.

One-time funding for the Clean Air Retrofit, Replacement, and Off-Road Technology(CARROT) Program. DAQ CARROT grants help individuals, businesses, and local governments reduce emissions from heavy-duty on-road diesel engines, non-road diesel engines, and small non-road engines.

Legislation will help DEQ address Utah's unique air quality challenges
Photo credit: mateoutah


Allows the Air Quality Board to adopt rules that are different from corresponding federal regulations if they are based on evidence, studies, or other information that relates specifically to conditions in Utah and the type of source involved.

Prohibits the Division of Air Quality from imposing a seasonal wood-burn ban. The bill also requires the Division to create a public awareness campaign on the effects of wood burning on air quality as well as a program to assist with the conversion of qualified homes to natural gas, propane, wood pellet heating sources, or EPA-certified wood-burning stoves.

Amends the definition of solid waste to now include fly-ash waste, bottom-ash waste, slag waste, and flue-gas emission-control waste generated from the combustion of coal or other fossil fuels.

Combines the Division of Radiation Control and the Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste into a new Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control. This legislation also replaces the two current nine-member boards with a single 12-member board. The consolidation will take place July 1, 2015.

Establishes a committee within the Department that reviews matters affecting DEQ and local health departments.

Improves and streamlines the adjudication of permit review and enforcement proceedings and adjusts the standard of review so it is in line with EPA standards.

Thank you to all of you whose hard work and participation made this a successful legislative session. For a more complete list of environmental legislation introduced during the 2015 session, visit our bill-tracking page. Please let me know if you have any questions or ideas as we begin to prepare for next session — and yes, preparations begin now! Thanks again!

As the Director of Legislative and Government affairs, I work with legislators and stakeholders on pending legislation as well as promoting the great work that our Department does. Prior to joining DEQ, I worked in the Governor's Office in Utah and Washington and with Deloitte Consulting in D.C., where I helped state and federal agencies identify and implement opportunities to improve. I earned my Bachelor’s Degree at Brigham Young University and my Masters in Public Administration (MPA) and JD degrees from Syracuse University. I LOVE to get outdoors and enjoy skiing, running, hiking, camping, working in the yard, fixing up our broken-down house, and anything else I can convince my wife and four daughters to do with me.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

DEQ: Partners Help Us Improve Utah’s Environment

By: Donna Kemp Spangler

Utah’s journey toward environmental sustainability has its challenges, and sometimes that journey can be downright discouraging. And then the best and brightest minds come together, and it all seems so achievable.

And come together they did last week at the Intermountain Sustainability Summit (Summit) at Weber State University (WSU) – the sixth year Utah Department of Environmental Quality, along with our many partners, has sponsored the summit.

David Orr addresses Summit attendees
David Orr, professor of environmental studies and politics at Oberlin College in Ohio, the keynote speaker at this year’s summit, likened sustainability to “going to Montana,” a reference to Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove” novel about a cattle drive to uncharted grasslands in Montana: the opportunities are endless, but you really don’t know what you will find when you finally get there.

It also got me thinking about the Summit itself, and how our partners help Utah become a better place to live.

The Intermountain Sustainability Summit took shape in 2010 when WSU students and an educator, along with a former DEQ recycling coordinator, brought together the best minds in recycling and waste reduction to develop new strategies for home owners and businesses. By 2011, the Summit included sessions on developing new strategies for implementing sustainability in homes and businesses.

Each year, a committee that includes DEQ’s own Frances Bernards, brings in nationally renowned speakers like Orr — Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell was the keynote speaker last year — to inspire the rest of us to commit to sustainability. This year the committee had help from Emily Mead, conference coordinator for WSU’s Energy and Sustainability Office.

Paul Harding and Frances Bernards of DEQ
provide pollution prevention information
The two-day Summit featured four tracks on waste and recycling, energy, sustainability, and food and agriculture, with break-out sessions that included air quality and pollution (featuring Robert Grow of Envision Utah presenting Governor’s Clean Air Action Team’s recommendations); water supply needs and conservation; recycling and waste reduction; and sustainable food and agriculture.

The Summit draws businesses, organizations, government and educational institutions. This year Summit sponsors, besides DEQ,  included iUtah, Weber State University MBA Program, WattStopper,  Catalyst, Codale Electric Supply, Inc., UAMPS,  Weber-Morgan Health Department, Architectural Nexus,  Utah Officeof Energy Development, PathoSans, and AMD Architecture.

Virginia Till, recycling specialist with EPA Region 8, said it best: when the journey to sustainability seems mired in policy and politics, the Summit offers promise and hope that motivates all of us to continue the journey.

Although the journey to sustainability seems daunting, it doesn’t have to be. “Think about the journey as a journey of celebration that brings beauty, art and culture together,” Orr said. He spoke about the Oberlin Project, a collaborative venture between Oberlin College, City of Oberlin, schools, and the private sector to install solar panels on buildings and other projects aimed at building a “prosperous post-fossil fuel community.”

The Summit gave me hope and renewed appreciation for our partners. DEQ isn’t alone in its journey for a sustainable Utah. In fact, our success depends on all of us working together.

I am the Communications Director for DEQ and write a monthly blog post. You can read my previous blog posts here at I have a communication degree from University of Portland, and a former journalist of over 20 years, mostly covering environmental issues.