Monday, June 20, 2016

Willard Spur: Resolving Conflict through Collaboration

By: Jeff Ostermiller

Willard Spur
Sometimes it’s hard for me to keep my inner cynic in check. This is particularly true during presidential elections, when the divisive nature of our political system makes compromise among differing viewpoints seem impossible.

In contrast to presidential politics, our collaboration on Willard Spur embraced divergent views to help find solutions to a seemingly intractable problem. We went from several legal challenges to unanimous consensus on appropriate resolution to several water quality issues — a journey that was only made possible by genuinely listening and responding to divergent stakeholder perspectives.


The process started with a legal challenge to a discharge permit for a newly constructed wastewater treatment plant to Willard Spur, a non-tidal estuary of Great Salt Lake. Unlike other waters in the state, Great Salt Lake generally lacks numeric criteria, which are water quality pollution limits that are protective of the beneficial uses of waters. The lack of criteria necessitate careful evaluation of each challenge on a case-by-case basis, usually by several water quality scientists with different areas of expertise.
Our first step in evaluating this particular challenge was to compile all of the data we could find. A review of our water quality database revealed — nothing! There was not a single water quality record among the millions of records in our archives. This was our first sign that this challenge might be different.

Meanwhile, the legal and political contentions expanded to include the Bear River National Wildlife Refuge. The Water Quality Board was also petitioned to increase the regulatory protections for Willard Spur by making changes to Utah’s water quality standards.

Perry and Willard Cities, the proud owners of a new $20 million treatment plant, were understandably concerned about not being able to operate. Our preliminary analyses were unable to conclude with a reasonable amount of certainty that it was unlikely that the facility on Willard Spur caused impacts to the Spur. However, given the lack of data, any conclusions were, at best, tenuous.

Only one fact was clear: Willard Spur is an important—and stunningly beautiful— ecosystem warranting protection.


We were able to establish a process that allowed the facility to operate on a temporary basis while DEQ and others collected the data necessary to make defensible long-term permitting decisions. A Steering Committee of representatives from all parties directly affected by the project was formed to guide the project and making recommendations to the Water Quality Board on permit requirements or water quality standard changes. A Science Panel was also formed with experts in a variety of important disciplines. This team identified important data gaps and made recommendations about investigations most critical to resolving stakeholder concerns. My role was to lead this panel.

Over the next several years, we conducted numerous research projects. Everyone was actively engaged throughout all steps of the project — from planning through implementation and ultimately interpretation of data — always in the context of divergent stakeholder concerns.


Experimental chambers called mesocosms
are used to conduct research.
Ultimately, we learned enough about the ecosystem to make recommendations for permit renewal that minimized the risk of the discharge to the health of the ecosystem. As it turned out, they also resulted in reduced operating costs for the facility! These recommendations received unanimous support from Steering Committee members, consensus that few would have guessed possible at the beginning of the project.

While it is true that we got lucky in the sense that scientific investigations don’t always lead to equitable solutions, I’m convinced that the collaborative nature of the project increased the likelihood of finding a sensible solution that was acceptable to all stakeholders. In part, this is because consideration of different goals and perspectives was central to the study design. Over time, this open dialogue also built trust among stakeholders, which I believe would have made more contentious resolutions more palatable if the data suggested they were necessary.

Final Thoughts

On a personal level, it was gratifying to work with a diverse group of stakeholders and scientists. It was impressive to see work of the Science Panel and Steering Committee, all of whom demonstrated their commitment by volunteering many hours of their time to provide thoughtful advice. Our monitoring section and outside contractors work tirelessly to collect the information requested. I’m extremely grateful to everyone involved.

Sometimes we all get frustrated with the amount of time required for meaningful change in the public sector. For me, this project served a reminder that sometimes delays result from the legitimate need to truly understand the perspective of those who might be affected by our policies and to collect sufficient information to make sure that whatever decisions are ultimately made are as informed as possible.

Want to learn more about the Willard Spur collaborative process? Visit our website for more information. Better yet, visit the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and experience this beautiful place for yourself!

I am an environmental scientist for the DWQ who has had many roles since I joined the team 12 years ago. Currently, I’m overseeing efforts to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, an important, largely unaddressed water-quality concern. When not working at DEQ (or at home), I enjoy taking adventures with my family. Whether we’re on local outdoor excursions or on travels to new and interesting destinations, my pleasure is enhanced by the naturally inquisitive, youthful exuberance of my son and daughter.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Air Assist Grants Help Businesses Improve Air Quality

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.

The Division of Air Quality at the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) often writes and revises air quality rules to help reduce pollution and improve the air quality in our state. For many small businesses, the cost of complying with these rules is overwhelming and can put jobs and businesses at risk. The Air Assist Grant Program helps ease the financial burden of compliance on these small businesses and protect the wonderful jobs they provide.

ACS Precision Finish auto body shop received funding from Air Assist for a new water-based paint system 
that will reduce its emissions. Photo courtesy KUER.

The Small Business Clean Air Assist Program is a joint effort between the Utah Department of Workforce Services, DEQ, and the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR). The goal is to support businesses in making business process improvements to reduce emissions and improve air quality.

The Air Assist program offers grants and is focused on small businesses with fewer than 100 employees in nonattainment counties. In Utah, this includes Box Elder, Cache, Davis, Tooele, Salt Lake, Utah, and Weber counties. In these areas, the levels of six common, and potentially harmful, air pollutants exceed federal standards. We have also issued grants to businesses in Duchesne, Uintah, and Washington counties, even though they are not non-attainment counties. We hope these proactive projects will help these counties to keep their air clean and remain in attainment!

David Brog's new coffee roaster reduces volatile organic compound (VOC)
emissions by 95 percent. Photo courtesy KUER.

We match the funds dollar for dollar that a business invests in business process improvement projects up to $15,000. These projects can include the purchase and installation of upgraded supplies and equipment designed to reduce emissions and improve air quality.

Air Assist Grants must be used for equipment or other upgrades that are part of how a business operates. For example, converting from traditional paint to low-emission water based paint in an auto body shop or switching out gas mowers in favor of electric mowers for a landscape company qualifies for funding. The grants cannot be used for things such as energy efficient lighting heating, or cooling for an office.

The Air Assist Program has been in place since February 5, 2014. In that time, we have awarded grants totaling nearly $700,000 to help over 50 businesses around Utah. We have been able to help a variety of different businesses, including auto body shops, landscaping companies, coffee roasters, and even cabinet makers. Air Assist Grants are not competitive, we want to fund as many projects as possible!

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, June 6, 2016

Great Salt Lake Issues Forum: Bringing People Together for Some Salty Conversation

By: Lynn de Freitas, 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.

A packed house on the opening day of the forum. Photo credit: Charles Uibel
One of the speakers characterized it as a “room full of bridge builders.” Another remarked, “It’s harder to fix things afterwards than it is to try and figure things out beforehand.”

During three days in May, more than 200 people engaged in a rich and briny conversation about research, planning, and management challenges as well as current issues relevant to the Great Salt Lake at the 2016 Great Salt Lake Issues Forum, hosted by FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake.

Discussions continued even after a panel ended.
Photo credit: Charles Uibel
But the conversation didn’t stop with the Great Salt Lake. Since the title of the program was “Great Salt Lake in the Big Picture,” it was important to talk about other saline systems within the region — Owens Lake, Mono Lake, and Salton Sea— for a regional context and valuable comparisons. Through this shared experience, participants heard about important lessons learned from scientists, resource managers, policymakers, regulatory agencies, and nonprofit organizations working to restore and protect those systems impacted by water diversions. The takeaway from this shared experience was that, at all costs, we never want to find ourselves and Great Salt Lake in such dire straits.

 “Acting in time has translated out to maintain(ing) a viable ecosystem today even though extreme drought conditions exist.” This important take-home message was delivered by Geoff McQuilkin, executive director of the Mono Lake Committee, whose work to restore the public-trust value of Mono Lake kept it from being drained dry from water diversions to Los Angeles.

Speakers received thoughtful questions from the audience.
Photo credit: Charles Uibel
Owens Lake wasn’t that lucky.

Phill Kiddoo, air pollution control officer for the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District was a keynote speaker at the forum. He’s part of a huge team implementing a long-term strategy to bring the Owens Valley Planning Area back into air quality compliance after being designated a “serious non-attainment area” for PM10 particulate matter by the EPA in 1987.

This ongoing work has been costly.

“From 2000 through the 2017-18 budget year, the price tag to control PM10 emissions at Owens Lake is projected to surpass $2.1 billion,” explained Kiddoo. “Projection of costs for ongoing operations and maintenance with purchasing of water from other sources to offset the 60,000-95,000 acre feet of water used on Owens Lake for dust mitigation, an additional $75 million will be spent annually.”

The forum was also a time to acknowledge the great work done to address the challenges facing the Great Salt Lake. FRIENDS recognized the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem Program (GSLEP) with the 2016 Friend of the Lake Award. Over the past 21 years, GSLEP, a public-private partnership, has succeeded in developing a sustainable management model for a keystone species of the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem – artemia franciscana, the Great Salt Lake brine shrimp. FRIENDS also presented the 2016 Doyle W. Stephens Scholarship to Derek V. Mallia, a Ph.D candidate in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Utah for his work “The Impacts of a Shrinking Great Salt Lake on Future Air Quality.”

Scientists and stakeholders found informal ways
to connect during the Forum.
Photo credit: Charles Uibel
What became apparent during the forum is that we – the Great Salt Lake home team – already have a lot going for us. We have an indispensable toolbox to work with. We have an extraordinary endowment of science that continues to inform our understanding about the system. We have effective collaboration that supports open communication and participation. And we have a growing recognition about the importance of integrating these abilities so that we can fulfill our responsibility to effectively sustain this hemispherically valuable ecosystem for future generations.

“It takes special people who care enough and who are adamant enough to stand up and say this needs to be addressed,” concluded Kiddoo.

We couldn’t agree more.

Missed the 2016 forum? A video archive of all presentations will be available soon at . You can also check out past forums on our website. Founded in 1994, FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake is a nonprofit membership organization whose mission is to preserve and protect the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem through education, research, advocacy, and the arts. The long-term vision of the organization is to achieve comprehensive watershed restoration and protection for the Lake.

Photo credit: Charles Uibel
I began my involvement with FRIENDS shortly after its founding in 1994. I became President of the Board in 1996 and Executive Director in 2002. I am a fulltime volunteer. I especially enjoy working on developing policies that address the unique role and characteristics of the Great Salt Lake to ensure its long-term sustainability. Prior to my affiliation with FRIENDS, I was a library media coordinator for 18 years in both public and private schools in the Salt Lake area. I hold a B.S. in Biology from Montclair State College and an M. Ed in Educational Systems and Learning Resources from the University of Utah. In 2002, I received the Utah Environmental Educator Volunteer of the Year Award from the Utah Society for Environmental Education and in 2006, I received the Calvin K. Sudweeks Award for outstanding contributions in the water quality field in the State of Utah by the Utah Water Quality Board.

In my free time, I am an avid birder, enjoy travel and am learning dressage.