SALT LAKE CITY — The year 2011 brought the 20th anniversary of the state's establishment of an environmental regulation department, and a number of milestones were achieved this year aimed at cleaning up Utah's air, water and land.
Even the little things — like recycling old tires — add up in big ways. The state Department of Environmental Quality reports that nearly 100 percent of all tires collected in Utah were recycled or reused, amounting to 43,000 tons or 2.6 million tires that escaped the fate of landfills or dumping grounds.
In its annual "State of the Environment Report," the regulatory agency also noted an increased public awareness over the dangers of radon during 2011, with an uptick in both the number of tests performed and the number of radon mitigation systems installed in homes.
As an example, in 2011 there were 4,326 radon tests — up from 2010's 3,353. The department's radon program operates in conjunction with multiple partners, including Intermountain Healthcare's Women and Newborn Services, as well as the American Cancer Society and the state Department of Health.
The year 2011 also saw the establishment of an innovative renewable energy rebate program that saw an upfront infusion of $1.2 million become fully tapped in just under three months, leveraged by more than $5 million in private investment through jobs and support of businesses.
Utah homeowners, in the meantime, took advantage of residential audits to retrofit their dwellings to cut down on energy use and pocket the savings. Through the Utah Home Performance Program, nearly 1,300 homes had retrofits to see annual average energy savings as much as 29 percent in the years to come.
In the area of water quality and resource protection, regulators launched a cooperative monitoring agreement for the Great Salt Lake. The goal is the implementation of a more unified approach to compiling data essential for the management of the largest saltwater lake in the Western hemisphere.
Regulators, too, reached out to the public in a pair of surveys gauging public perceptions of what "clean" water means, and how it impacts choices related to recreation destinations or quality of drinking water.
The findings underscored the critical economic link established with the appeal of "clean" water in contrast to visitor deterrence caused by shore-hugging algae blooms in impaired waters.
A watershed analysis was completed this year for upper Emigration Creek in Salt Lake County to determine the likely sources of E. coli contamination, and other studies are continuing for the Jordan River, Nine Mile Creek and Iron County's Red Creek Reservoir.
During fiscal year 2011, Utah provided nearly $27 million to 39 different water system improvement projects that include such things as replacement of aging or inadequate pipes, storage tanks or the development of new sources of drinking water.
On the radioactive waste front, the department saw itself in the middle of an ongoing and contentious public policy debate over the storage of depleted uranium and blended waste at EnergySolutions' Clive facility.
Both waste streams are proposed for long-term storage in Tooele County, with site-specific performance assessments being required before any subsequent disposal takes place.
Overall, the department notes that the volume of radioactive waste taken in by EnergySolutions at Clive has dropped significantly since a peak of nearly 27 million cubic feet received in 2005. As of the third quarter of 2011, the company reported 3.1 million cubic feet of material taken in, consisting of tailings, mixed waste and class A low-level radioactive waste.
In matters related to air quality — perhaps the state's most public, complex and divisive environmental challenge — Utah regulators are working to meet a December 2012 deadline to come up with a plan for compliance with federal standards dealing with fine particulates or PM2.5.
It also has launched an ambitious study of the ozone problem in Uintah Basin that is part of a three-state pilot project tapping western Colorado and southwestern Wyoming.
Closer to home, Kennecott's ambitious Cornerstone expansion advanced after receiving the required permit from the Division of Air Quality that allows the amount of material to be moved to jump from 239 million tons to 260 million tons. Such a move will allow Kennecott to extend the life of its mine to 2039.
The plan, however, has come under intense scrutiny from clean air advocates who already claim Kennecott is not doing enough to control its emissions that result from moving waste rock or from heavy truck operations.
A federal lawsuit against the company was filed earlier this month.
Utah environmental numbers:
• 1,200 diesel-powered school buses were retrofitted
• 27 older buses replaced with new buses
• 52 long-haul trucks had auxiliary power units installed
• 32 farm trucks had auxiliary power units installed
• Clean diesel program will reduce emissions by more than 25,000 tons and save more than 1.3 million gallons of diesel fuel over the life of the fleet
• Radon tests were up to 4,236 in 2011 compared to 900 in 2005
• 1,300 homes across Utah were retrofitted to become more energy efficient
• 66 sites were mitigated in state reclamation projects and 67 new sites were identified to undergo remediation
• 4,443 underground storage tank sites were cleaned up
• As of Oct. 11, 35 completion certificates were issued under the Voluntary Cleanup Program, with 850 acres returned to a state of beneficial reuse
• 2.6 million tires were recycled
• 99 percent of the mustard chemical agent at Deseret Chemical Depot has been destroyed
• 99.9 percent of Utah's water comes from approved public water systems
• 88.6 percent of community public water systems meet all standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act
Source: Utah Department of Environmental Quality