Monday, December 22, 2014

Drinking Water: From Cloud to Tap

By: Kim Dyches

It’s easy to take our drinking water for granted—we turn on our tap and just like that, we have clean water. In fact, Americans drink more than 1 billion glasses of tap water a day! But strict regulations to protect the quality of that drinking water are a relatively recent development. That’s why the Division of Drinking Water (DDW) is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) this month. SDWA ensures that water suppliers provide the public with safe, clean drinking water, protect ground water sources from contamination, and test water regularly to make sure it meets health-based drinking water standards.

But let’s step back for a moment. Where does our water come from, and how do we make sure it’s safe to drink?

It all starts with the water cycle, a process that transfers water from the atmosphere down to the earth and back again. Water droplets evaporate from the ground into the atmosphere, cool, and condense to form clouds. As the clouds become saturated, the water falls to the ground as rain or snow. This precipitation nourishes plants, flows into surface waters, collects as snowpack in the mountains, or percolates through the soil to become ground water. The cycle begins again as the heat of the sun causes surface water to evaporate and plants release water vapor into the air. This continuous movement of water from solid to gas to liquid has been going on for millennia.
Precipitation from the water cycle provides us with the surface water or ground water that is the source of our drinking water. While it would be ideal if these water sources were pristine, they are often contaminated by chemicals, microbes, waste products, or even naturally occurring substances.

Prior to the enactment of the SDWA, the safety of drinking water was far from assured. Chlorination of water supplies in the U.S. began in the early 1900s and was a public health triumph, greatly reducing the incidence of typhus and cholera from contaminated water. Still, a 1969 Public Health Service study of public water suppliers in five states found that more than 40 percent of residents were drinking substandard water and up to 8 million Americans were drinking potentially dangerous water. The study found that most systems weren’t regularly testing for chemicals in the water and most couldn’t pass state bacteriological standards.

SDWA changed all that in 1974. The law set national health-based standards for drinking water from public water suppliers, and later added requirements for source water protection and operator training, funding for water system improvements, and public information on drinking water systems. DDW is responsible for implementing these requirements, and our program includes:

So the next time you turn on your tap, remember that DDW is working hard every day to ensure that every precious drop of water we get from the water cycle is treated and protected so you can count on safe drinking water every time you fill your glass.

Want to know more about your drinking water? Your water system is required under SDWA to prepare and distribute an annual Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) to residents. You can contact your local water supplier for a copy of their latest report or check out the EPA locator to see if the report is available online. Visit our web page to learn more about our wide range of programs to protect your drinking water. To learn more about SDWA and how it’s helped us protect our drinking water, visit the EPA Safe Drinking Water site for more information.

I am the Field Services Manager for the Division of Drinking Water. I have been in the water industry for 30 years. I am adjunct faculty at Utah Valley University and have taught several courses on subjects relating to water.



Monday, December 15, 2014

Solid and Hazardous Waste: Make It a “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” Holiday

By: Deborah Ng

The holidays are a season for giving. So why not give something that helps the environment at the same time? Here at the Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste, we teach about the 3R’s: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Careful consideration during the purchase of gifts will reduce the amount of useless packaging material or senseless doo-dads that end up in the wastebasket before the holidays are over. Be creative! Skip the partridge in a pear tree and instead consider our 12 suggestions for an eco-friendly season.

Day 1: Choose or Use Recycled Materials for Gifts

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You can find lots of gifts that are made of recycled materials. Look for welcome mats made from recycled tires, items made out of recycled plastic bottles, crafts made from scrap wood or reclaimed lumber, or clothing repurposed to make fashionable decorations. Check out Pinterest for ideas on unique gifts you can make yourself from recycled materials.

Day 2: Use Rechargeable Batteries

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If possible, buy rechargeable batteries for new electronic toys. Wondering how you should handle single-use batteries? You can drop them off at a household hazardous waste facility or participate in a number of mail-in or take-back programs. Check out this recycling locator to find the recycler nearest to you. Small battery disposal programs are offered at participating WalMart, ACE Hardware, RadioShack, Target, Home Depot, and Lowe’s. 

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Day 3: Make Your Own Recycling Station
With a little ingenuity, you can create your own recycling station in your home. All you need are plastic bins or wooden crates and some large labels. Recycling has never been so chic!

Day 4: Make Your Own Wrapping Paper

Unique wrapping materials make your gifts stand out from the crowd. Reuse maps, the Sunday comics, paper bags, or butcher paper. Have your kids color, use stamps, or glitter-glue the butcher paper or paper bags to get the whole family involved. And remember to save ribbons, bows and bags to reuse next year!

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Day 5: Reuse Holiday Cards

Don’t throw away your old holiday cards! You can find lots of ideas for repurposing cards to make fun decorations. Holiday cards can also be recycled with mixed paper products—just pull off any non-paper gee-gaws that might be attached. Alternatively, you can cut cards up into small gift tags to use next year. Choose smaller-sized cards when buying new.

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Day 6: Take Transit

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When traveling during the holidays, consider taking public transportation, carpooling with friends or relatives, or combining several errands into one trip. Take TRAX downtown to shop at Gateway or City Creek, see the Temple Square lights, have a nice dinner, or attend a holiday or sporting event. UTA is offering 15 cent fares from December 15-December 31 using the electronic FAREPAY cards.

Day 7: Support Sustainable Foods and Local Growers

Planning a holiday feast? Think organic veggies, fruits, meat, or sustainable seafood. Consider giving friends and family a membership to your local community-supported agriculture (CSA) program for locally-grown produce year-round. At the end of the meal, remember to compost and recycle.

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Day 8: Recycle Your Christmas Lights

No need for your lights next year? Donate them to a local charity or offer them to someone who wants them on freecycle. If some of the bulbs are broken or there are other problems with the lights, recycle them at The lights will be recycled responsibly, and you'll get a coupon worth 25 percent off a new purchase.

At the end of the holiday, put Christmas lights away carefully so they'll be in good shape for the following year. If the original packaging is no help, rip the side off a large cardboard box and wrap the string around it, cutting notches in the cardboard if necessary to hold the light string in place. 

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Day 9: Use Reusable Dishware

Don’t forget the dishes! Avoid using disposable dishes and utensils when entertaining friends and family. This is the perfect time to pull out grandma’s fancy plates, hit the thrift stores, or even purchase reusable plastic plates. If you must use disposable dishware, buy ones that are made from recycled or compostable material. Remember to place your new recycling and compost containers in an easy-to-find location at your celebration so your guests can recycle soda cans, bottles, and paper products and compost food scraps.
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Day 10: Replant, Compost, or Mulch Your Tree

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If you want to celebrate the holidays with a tree, consider purchasing a tree that can be replanted in your yard.

If you purchased a cut tree, look for ways to compost it after the holidays rather than sending it to a landfill. Most areas in Utah have a curbside pickup for recycling trees or central drop-off recycling centers. Check your city’s webpage for pickup days or drop-off locations--most programs run for several weeks. Recycled trees are chipped and shredded to make mulch that can be used as compost or landscaping material.

Day 11: Recycle or Donate Used Electronics

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Don’t junk last year’s electronics. Don't underestimate the value of your old computer or TV when you get a shiny new replacement for the holidays. That "clunker" was worth something the day before—and still is. Maybe someone you know would benefit from it. A local school or charity might want it. Heck, you might even be able to sell it.

If there are no takers, recycle it. Many retail stores such as Best Buy and electronics manufacturers will take back all electronics at no cost to you. If you have a Mac or iPad, bring it back to Apple for recycling. PCs are accepted too! Apple promises that if the machine has monetary value, you will receive an Apple Gift Card for the amount. The same applies to iPhones and iPods. Check out recycling options for Takeback Programs in Utah.

Just remember, when donating or recycling any equipment with personal information on it, you need to wipe out the memory first. This is very important, as it protects you from financial and identity theft—and simply to keep private stuff private. Use these instructions for erasing data from PCs.

Day 12: Host a Gift Exchange

Have a swap party. You may not be in love with the fringed, mesh muscle shirt that one of your overzealous co-workers gave you, but someone else might go gaga over it! Planning a swap party is simple – just invite a few favorite friends to bring over their unwanted gifts, serve some yummy snacks and beverages, and let the trading begin! For an added dose of excitement, play the classic gift-switching game White Elephant.

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Take our 12-day Holiday Recycle Challenge! Use your cell phone to post your recycling photos to our Instagram account @HolidayRecycleChallenge.You can use one of our ideas, or one of your own. The daily winner’s photo will be featured on our social media channels. #HolidayRecycleChallenge 

Want to learn more about sustainability practices? Visit our web site to find out more. We also have a wide selection of pollution prevention fact sheets that can help you properly manage and dispose of a variety of household wastes.

I am the manager of the Recycling and Community Outreach Program for the Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste. We provide public and business assistance for recycling, used oil, small generators of hazardous waste, and waste tires. I love to golf and travel with my family.



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Protecting Utah’s Environment One Step at a Time

By: Donna Kemp Spangler 

Changing Utah’s environment for the better usually happens incrementally. But change is happening, and it is happening faster than ever before, thanks to a Utah public that has become more engaged, a Utah Legislature that has prioritized funding to make it happen, and the dedicated employees at the Department of Environmental Quality who have continued to up their game.

Here are a few highlights from 2014:

Winter of Discontent: Utah’s Air

This winter was a wake-up call for many Utahns—one of the worst inversions in recent Utah history trapped pollution along the Wasatch Front and prompted thousands of clean air activists to rally at the Capitol. The Utah Legislature took notice, passing bills and providing funding for air quality research and education. DEQ will highlight the results of this research in the coming year. 

Cleaner Water

This past year, the Division of Water Quality passed a new rule to reduce phosphorus discharges from wastewater treatment plants. This nutrient pollution strategy is part of a larger statewide nutrient reduction plan to reduce excess nutrients in Utah waterways.

Improved Efficiencies

DEQ has always looked for ways to improve efficiencies in its permitting and planning process, all with an eye towards better protection of Utah’s environment. In 2014, DEQ achieved considerable efficiencies through the Governor’s SUCCESS Framework, a statewide process that our agency used to implement measurable improvements across divisions. We featured a number of our projects in earlier blogs.

Notable Settlements

Community Connection

In April, DEQ launched weekly blogs to better connect with the community. Our first series, the “12 Days of Earth Day,” featured daily blogs leading up to Earth Day and a kid-filled YouTube video. Each week since, our employees have written blogs on different subjects to give the public a personal look at some of the issues they encounter on a daily basis at DEQ. 

We are using more multimedia platforms like YouTube to cover complicated and controversial topics. For example, we produced a video this fall about DEQ’s review of Energy Solutions’ application to accept depleted uranium at its Clive facility, and we plan to incorporate more video clips in our blogs and Facebook posts next year.

My staff and I are committed to improving the ways we keep the public informed on important environmental issues. I invite you to follow us on Facebook, Twitter @utahdeq, and our web site. Our office provides the public with an overview of agency successes and challenges in our annual State Report on the Environment. Look for more information about this year’s report in our December 29th blog post.

I am the Communications Director for DEQ and write a monthly blog post. You can read my previous blog posts here at You can follow me on Twitter @deqdonna.