Water Quality Council asking legislature for research funding

by Tom HARALDSEN tharaldsen@davisclipper.com We’ve heard for years about the concerns over Utah’s water supply—particularly when we’re experiencing a winter like this one with insufficient snowfall. But there’s one category involving H2O were the state has so shortage—wastewater. The 2-plus million people who live along the Wasatch Front send millions of gallons of wastewater into local facilities—200 million gallons on a daily basis. That would fill 300 Olympic-size swimming pools each day. We don’t hear much about what happens to that wastewater. It’s kind of an out-of-sight, out-of-mind thing since local facilities handle it without a hitch. But there are concerns over how that process can affect the state’s ecosystem and resident’s health. Eight year ago, a group of local publicly owned treatment works partners joined forces to create the Wasatch Front Water Quality Council. Its goal through extensive research is to identify water quality standards and improve protection of Utah’s water resources. “Nutrients represent a potential threat to some waters,” said Thomas A. Holstrom, general manager of the Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility and a member of the WFWQC board, whose members met with the Davis Clipper editorial board last week. “While no federal standards exist for nutrients, the council has supported the state in enacting its Adoptive Management standard for them.” It’s been a concerted effort by Central Valley along with South Davis Sewer District, Central Davis Sewer District, North Davis Sewer District, South Valley Water Reclamation Facility and the South Valley Sewer District. Salt Lake City has also contributed to the council’s operating budget, but member say it’s time for a much larger, more extensive research effort to begin. So council members are hoping to make some headway at this year’s Utah State Legislature that begins next week. “The problem with the nitrogen/phosphorous mix (nutrients) in wastewater is that different environments call for different needs,” said Phil Heck from Central Valley Water Reclamation. Though both of those nutrients are important to the health of water systems, excessive amounts become pollutants. He said researchers working with the council are analyzing and working on ways to improve the understanding of Farmington Bay as well as Utah Lake. But the playing field, or in this case the water fields, aren’t level. “There is no such thing as an all-around fix,” said Jill S. Jones, a district manager of the Central Davis Sewer District. “We know that there’s a need to do more research, and there are going to be associated costs. The time to step up those efforts has come.” She said a survey taken last year showed that a large percentage of residents in the districts represented by the council supported fee increases to pay for upgrades or studies, “to make sure we have regulations that get the results we want.” The threat is that if wastewater is not properly cleaned, it can carry disease, impact wildlife and fisheries, and change the way we can recreate on lakes and rivers. As Jones said, determining the nutrient standards for different bodies of water is tricky, since each water body and its ecosystems are different. “The research has to be specific to each of those ecosystems,” said Leland Myers, a district manager at Central Davis. “We are working to raise legislative awareness as well as funding for this research. We need conclusive research so those making decisions are informed and sound policy created. The time for the legislature to invest in this research is now.”

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