Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's environment was sucker-punched in 2010 with a trio of oil spills, but the year also brought significant victories in waste storage, clean water and other areas that should give residents cause to celebrate.
Two failures of the Chevron pipeline in Salt Lake City resulted in the release of 1,300 barrels of oil in separate incidents less than six months apart.
The first spill despoiled Red Butte Creek, with water quality officials estimating that 766 barrels made it into the riparian waterway. Full remediation is expected to take years and in the wake of the second release, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker wants the pipeline to remain idle indefinitely.
Farther south in late September, someone dumped 40 barrels of crude oil into the Strawberry River, with the thick crude also spreading to the Duchesne River in the Uintah Basin. Cleanup costs have topped a half million dollars, and the probe has turned into a criminal investigation by the Duchesne County Sheriff's Office and the EPA. A $10,000 reward remains on the table.
While the impacts of the oil spills delivered a blow to valuable Utah waterways, successes were marked elsewhere. In Ogden, for example, a community celebrated the kick-off of the Ogden River Restoration project in part fueled by $1 million in federal stimulus funding.
As of late December, more than 2,400 tons of concrete and scrap have been removed from a 1.1 mile stretch of the river, in addition to 3,800 cubic yards of litter and more than 2,000 tires.
The Great Salt Lake, too, was the recipient of extra TLC, made possible by legislation that put into action the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council. The state Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands is heading up a comprehensive effort involving multiple counties and others in the crafting of a new 10-year management plan. The plan is designed to guide future resource development and instill protections for the western hemisphere's largest salt lake.
As a nod to the health of Utah's rivers, streams and lakes, lawmakers in 2010 had Utah join 16 other states in the country to prohibit high levels of phosphorous in dishwashing detergent. Too much phosphorus spawns the growth of algae blooms, which compete with fish for oxygen.
The state Division of Water Quality, too, worked with police agencies across the state in the collection of unwanted medications that could otherwise be flushed into the state's water system. More than 2,100 pounds of unused medications were collected in 15 "take back" events hosted across the state. The agency also assisted in a national collection effort, which garnered another 3,000 pounds of unused medication.
The year also brought a lull in one of Utah's most ardently fought water wars —that involving the Snake Valley aquifer, a precious source of water in a valley straddling the Utah-Nevada border. After much hand-wringing, countless meetings and a "water sharing" plan crafted by officials from both states, the entire process was kicked back to square one with a controversial Nevada Supreme Court decision. Water right applications are once again making their way through an arduous review process by the Nevada state engineer, which will jump-start a new round of protests.
On the radioactive waste front, Utahns opposed to allowing EnergySolutions to dispose of up to 20,000 tons of Italian waste scored a victory when the company announced in July it was backing off its efforts. The step resolved an expensive, lengthy legal battle that wound its way to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, where the Salt Lake-based company argued Utah lacked statutory authority to block the material's disposal.
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