Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Air Assist: Lawn Care Company Thinks Green, Goes Electric

By Bailey Toolson, Guest Blogger

DEQ invites guest bloggers to share their thoughts on issues that impact our environment. We appreciate their insights and the opportunity to broaden the conversation with others in the community.

As part of the annual Clear the Air Challenge, the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR) and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) would like to highlight companies that are doing their part to help clear Utah’s air. First up is an inspiring lawn and landscape company from Weber County.

Los Gringos fondly calls its electric mower "The Mean Green Machine"
Los Gringos Lawn and Landscape is a family-owned business run by Jared and Jessica Bradley that has been operating since 2011. The Bradleys are longtime advocates for the environment and clean air. They strive to extend this environmentally conscious philosophy to their business.

They set the example for the lawn-care industry by driving alternative fuel vehicles, only installing water-wise irrigation systems, and planting drought-tolerant plants that will thrive in our desert climate. Los Gringos is always looking for ways to be more environmentally friendly and knowing gas lawn tools pollute more pound for pound than cars, they began looking for a better alternative.

Jared and Jessica Bradley
Until recently, commercial-grade electric lawn care equipment was not available. The electric lawn tools that were available were marketed to residential customers. They were not an option for the Bradleys because these electric lawn tools could simply not withstand the long hours and amount of use required in a commercial setting.

This all changed when they found Mean Green Mowers, an Ohio company that makes commercial-grade electric lawn care tools. Making the switch from gas to electric sets Los Gringos apart from other lawn care companies and allows them to more fully support their commitment to creating a cleaner, healthier environment.

Los Gringos was awarded Air Assist funding in June 2016. Using these funds, Los Gringos was able purchase to 14 rechargeable batteries, 7 electric trimmers, 5 leaf blowers, 2 electric chainsaws and 2 electric walk-behind mowers. This change will reduce CO2 emissions by 25,000 pounds per year and VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions by 918 pounds per year!
The Los Gringos Team
In addition to reduced air pollution, electric mowers significantly reduce noise pollution as well. Despite the added cost up front, electric equipment will ultimately last longer and cost less to maintain. Their new electric equipment won’t require the constant maintenance and added expense of spark plugs, oil and fuel filters, pull strings, and gasoline. 

In the future, the Bradleys hope to phase out the few gas mowers they still have and get solar panels for their equipment trailer in order to charge their electric equipment, truly making them zero emissions.

The Air Assist Program has received funding through June 2017, and we are looking for more small businesses to help! The application is simple and there is no deadline to apply. The application can be found on the UCAIR website.

I recently graduated with a Masters of Public Health from Westminster College. I am the Air Assist Program Manager, as well as, a new addition to the UCAIR team. Prior to joining UCAIR, I worked for nearly 4 years with the Division of Air Quality. In my spare time, I enjoy hiking and camping, travel, and all things Italian.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Harmful Algal Blooms: When It Isn’t Good to Be Green

Interview with Ben Holcomb

Algal bloom on Utah Lake July 2016
If you’ve ever recreated at one of Utah’s lakes or reservoirs, you’ve probably seen areas where greenish scum was floating on the water or collecting on the shore. What you probably didn’t know — at least until this past week with the closure of Utah Lake — was that this bright-green water is a sign of an algal bloom. These blooms are caused by a rapid increase in an organism called cyanobacteria that can produce toxins that are harmful to humans, pets, wildlife, and fish.

Excess nutrients in waterbodies, particularly phosphorus, can trigger algal blooms. Discharges from wastewater treatment plants, runoff from agricultural operations, and stormwater runoff can carry nitrogen and phosphorus into waterways and promote the growth of cyanobacteria.

We interviewed Ben Holcomb, the Biological Assessment and Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Programs Coordinator for the Division of Water Quality (DWQ), to learn more about cyanobacteria, what causes harmful algal blooms, and how DWQ is addressing this growing problem in the state.

What are cyanobacteria?

Aphanizomenon flos-aquae the cyanobacteria
detected in Utah Lake. Photo credit: cfb.unh.edu
Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, aren’t actually algae. They are prokaryotes, single-celled aquatic organisms that are closely related to bacteria and can photosynthesize like algae. These microorganisms have been a natural part of aquatic ecosystems for thousands of years — perhaps the organisms to first produce oxygen on Earth. Under the right conditions, however, their populations can explode to create large blooms. They multiply when elevated levels of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), warm temperatures, and calm water combine to create the perfect environment for rapid growth. Although many algal blooms are not toxic, especially the green algae, some types of cyanobacteria produce nerve or liver toxins. When this occurs, the event is known as a Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB).

Can you tell us more about the toxins produced during an algal bloom?

These poisons, called cyanotoxins, are produced naturally inside the cells of certain species of cyanobacteria. When the cells lyse (break open), the toxins may be released. In many species, the toxins remain within the cells while the bloom is growing and are only released into the water when cells die or rupture. Other species release the toxins during both their growth period and cell death. Some of these toxins attack the liver (hepatotoxins), others target the nervous system (neurotoxins), while still others irritate the skin (dermatoxins).

How can somebody tell if a lake or stream is experiencing a harmful algal bloom?

Telltale signs of a harmful algal bloom
Cyanobacteria can appear as single cells, filaments of cells, or colonies. Their characteristic pigment (“cyan”) gives them their blue-green color, although they can also appear as blue, green, red, or brown in the water. They may look like parallel green streaks, blue, white or green spilled paint, green dots or clumps on the surface, or bright green or “pea-soup” colored water. It can be hard to tell a HAB from other non-toxic algal blooms, and sometimes several types of algae can be present at one time in a bloom.

How do you know whether a bloom is toxic or not?

Unfortunately, you can't tell if a bloom is toxic just by looking at it. Some of the samples from Utah Lake containing the highest cell counts were in areas that did not appear green on the surface. Because cyanobacteria can also sink and float in response to changing conditions, blooms that may not be apparent at the surface may still be present in the lake. In addition, there are forms of cyanobacteria that grow on the bottom of rather clear lakes. So, even perfectly clear lakes may harbor toxin-producing cyanobacteria in large numbers.

While toxin tests can help confirm the presence of toxins, health and environmental agencies rely primarily on cell counts as the best method for determining risk to human and animal health from a bloom. Cell counts are much quicker, consistent and repeatable compared to evaluating fickle toxins. In addition, cell counts provide a better linkage to human health symptoms than toxins by themselves. We may only know a handful of the toxins that cyanobacteria produce.

What is the Division of Water Quality doing to prevent harmful algal blooms?

Aerial view shows Utah Lake algal bloom
moving into the Jordan River
While we have little control over some of the conditions that promote algal blooms — high air and water temperatures, low water levels, sunlight, and calm waters — we can do something about excess nutrient levels. DWQ has spent the past five years working on a nutrient reduction strategy to identify appropriate thresholds while considering the additional excess nutrient impacts from a growing state population.

For instance, we estimate that 80 percent of the phosphorus in Utah Lake comes from wasterwater treatment plants. Other waterbodies with frequent algal blooms, such as Farmington Bay, are also adversely affected by wastewater discharges. Our Water Quality Board voted last year to apply a technology-based standard for phosphorus discharges from wasterwater treatment plants that will significantly reduce the levels of nutrients entering many of Utah’s lakes and streams. Nitrogen and ammonia limits are likely to follow soon.

Can you predict when HABs might occur on Utah waterbodies?

Sampling on Utah Lake
Improving our office's ability to predict blooms would help us tremendously. DWQ recently received funds to purchase high-frequency water quality instruments for deployment at a few high-risk waterbodies. The data collected will be modeled after an effort in Ohio and Florida that uses a combination of water quality, remote sensing, and meteorological data. Ohio operates on a five-day forecast to predict cyanobacterial blooms. Currently, we can’t even predict the correct month.

Our predictions could also improve with increased satellite coverage. Right now, our area receives satellite images about once a week at best. After this year, we are expecting coverage every two to three days. When these data become available and linked with our water quality and meteorological information, we should have a tremendous predictive tool for our most high-risk waterbodies.

Do you have any plans to help reduce algal blooms on Utah Lake?

DWQ is prioritizing resources to study Utah Lake over the next few years. Not only are we assembling our sister natural resource agencies, but we are partnering with every university on the Wasatch Front for this effort. We have also made development of site-specific nutrient standards a priority for Utah Lake and are in the early stages of a workplan that will help us ensure that agricultural, recreational, and aquatic life uses are protected on Utah Lake and downstream.

Want to know more? Check out our Harmful Algal Bloom webpages for more information. You can visit our Utah Lake Algal Bloom webpage for up-to-date information about the ongoing bloom in Utah Lake and the Jordan River. If you believe a waterbody is experiencing a harmful algal bloom, call our 24-hour hotline at 801-536-4123.

I am the Division of Water Quality coordinator for the biological assessment and harmful algal bloom programs. I’ve worked at DWQ for seven years and my past work includes salmon, water quality, and tribal sovereignty in the Pacific Northwest.  


Monday, July 11, 2016

Drinking Water: Helping Water Systems When Stuff Happens

By: Michael Grange

One thing we can all be certain of, stuff happens. And when that stuff happens to your drinking water system, whether it’s expected or unexpected, sometimes you just aren’t quite ready for it. If the solution to the stuff that happens has a financial component to it, you may really not be ready for it.

Spring development project 

In those cases, the Division of Drinking Water’s (DDW) State Revolving
Fund (DWSRF) financial assistance programs can help bridge the gap between what your system has and what it needs. Whether those needs involve compliance with regulations, meeting increased demand, or resolving an emergency situation, assistance from the DWSRF program may be just what your system needs.

DDW administers two revolving funds: the federal Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and the state Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. These programs provide low-interest loans and grants to cities, towns, water districts, and nonprofit water companies to finance drinking water projects. Loans are typically provided at an interest rate well below the market rate over a 20 year period. 

Once the division receives an application for funding, DDW staff evaluates the application and engineering report and place the proposal on the Project Priority List. The evaluation assigns priority points based on criteria established in state rules. DDW staff then prepares a feasibility report and recommendation to present to the Utah Drinking Water Board for funding approval.

So, what kind of stuff can happen to your drinking water system? One of the key components of any drinking water system is the source. It could be a spring, a well, a lake, or a river. In some cases, even an old mine shaft might serve as your drinking water source. What happens if that source should suddenly become unusable?

Let’s look at a few examples.

Trenton Town

Trenton Town has relied on spring water for its drinking water source for many years. A sudden, heavy rainstorm exposed a big problem with this source when the amount of water flowing from the spring suddenly increased, and dirty water showed up in the distribution system. Investigations undertaken following this event identified severe structural deficiencies and showed that the spring was improperly developed to meet current drinking-water standards. Additional investigations at nearby spring sources also revealed deficiencies in their construction as well. The Drinking Water Board authorized financial assistance for Trenton Town to redevelop their spring source, and the latest test indicates the redevelopment was successful.

Taylor-West Weber

Well-drilling activities
The Taylor-West Weber Water Improvement District (TWWWID) was in the middle of extensive and expensive drinking water system improvements when sand suddenly began infiltrating an existing well, making it impractical to use. TWWWID approached the Drinking Water Board for financial assistance — in addition to the more than $7 million it had already obtained—to resolve this new emergency situation. The Board authorized funding for the District to drill a new well, and DDW staff worked with the District to expedite the availability of funds, which allowed the District to save money by using the contractor already onsite drilling a different well to also drill the replacement well.


The Elberta Water Company’s well contains arsenic above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant level. Drilling a new well was impractical and treatment to remove the arsenic was deemed too expensive for this small water system to undertake. That left blending the system’s high arsenic water with water that contained a lower arsenic level as the remaining solution. The Company identified a suitable nearby well, and the Division worked with Elberta, the city’s consulting engineer, and the owner of the existing well to develop an appropriate blending plan. The Drinking Water Board authorized financial assistance to the Company to install the required infrastructure to blend the source waters and bring Elberta’s drinking water into compliance with regulations.

As these examples show, stuff does indeed happen. The Division of Drinking Water and the Drinking Water Board, through the DWSRF programs, are here to help your system through those times when a little bit of help can make a great deal of difference.

Learn more about DDW’s grants and loan programs for drinking water systems, including how to apply for financial assistance, by visiting our SRF webpages. We are happy to help your city, town, or district get started on the application process.

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. Google+