SALT LAKE CITY — A major new report details some major advances as well as significant environmental challenges facing Utah.
The report was prepared for Gov. Spencer Cox and members of the Utah State Legislature by Utah State University’s Janet Quinney Lawson Institute for Land, Water, and Air Research. The report, released Thursday, highlights the ongoing issues Utah faces with the Great Salt Lake and air quality. It also proposes several policy solutions to many environmental problems.
Overall, the report found that despite a year of record snowfall, Utah is feeling the effects of climate change. In fact, it will take at least another six years for Lake Powell and Lake Mead to recover from their loss, but USU scientists don’t predict that.
“Over time, winters will get warmer,” said Dr. Brian Steed, director of the institute. “We have warm summers, and we also have warmer, longer summers.”
USU researchers noted that while the 2022-2023 winter was colder than average, it did not break Utah’s trend of warmer winters dating back to 1948.
Utah has made great strides when it comes to water conservation.
“We’re making strides when it comes to water conservation, and certainly water conservation is on our minds in Utah,” said Dr. Sarah Null, a watershed science professor at USU. “We need to better track and account for what we have preserved.”
Dr Null said this includes better “water shepherding” to ensure what is conserved gets to where it is needed, like the Great Salt Lake.
The report continues to say the Great Salt Lake poses a major ecological challenge for the state. The lake continues to pose a serious threat to the health of people and wildlife in northern Utah since hitting an all-time low last year. Researchers found that dust pollution becomes an even bigger problem for the state as rising PM10 levels expose more lake beds.
“On a really dusty day, of course, you’re inhaling about 10 to 20 times more dust than just nuisance dust,” said Dr. Randy Martin, associate research professor at Utah State University. It also includes several elements.”
That dust contains dangerous minerals such as arsenic, but USU found concentrations of magnesium, calcium, vanadium, and strontium were elevated above expected levels. In response, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality convened a work group to coordinate and sample more areas to understand how widespread the problem may be.
Utah has made great strides when it comes to air quality. The report found a decline in adverse days, or “red air” days, when state officials ask people to refrain from unnecessary driving or travel. But data collected shows that Utahns choose to ignore appeals to reduce vehicle emissions on “yellow air” days, and in some cases drive more to avoid air pollution. It also became clear that
This winter, the Uinta Basin recorded a spike in winter ozone conditions due to increased oil and gas production in the region.
“We still have work to do when it comes to air quality, and we know that,” Governor Cox told FOX 13 News when asked about the USU study during his monthly press conference on PBS Utah.
The governor said the state is working to address many of the report’s findings and recommendations. He noted that the state’s energy portfolio is increasingly diversified.
“Improving air quality also helps with climate change, so that’s a big part of it, the emissions part,” he said. “We’re working on expanding energy sources across the state. We’ve been talking about nuclear energy, and that’s going to be a big part of it going into the 2030s.”
Governor Cox has indicated that the state will pursue more nuclear power generation in Utah. Rocky Mountain Power is working on a small-scale nuclear power experiment aimed at repurposing decommissioned coal-fired power plants in rural Utah.
The report praised Utah’s efforts to reduce wildfires and educate people to avoid starting wildfires. He also suggested the state do more to promote biochar, which converts waste wood into products like charcoal through low-oxygen combustion. We found benefits for soil and water retention. The report also recommended creating more trails along the canal for communities to reap the multiple benefits of reducing water loss and providing outdoor activity space.
The report also found Utahns are concerned about the environment. A survey conducted by USU found that more than half of Utahns surveyed are extremely concerned about drought, water scarcity, poor air quality, and a dry Great Salt Lake. But about 18% of those same Utahns believe politicians are doing enough or too much on this issue. USU researchers said the data shows many Utahns want more from their elected officials.
Utah members of Congress were in the audience at Thursday’s event. Rep. Paul Cutler, R-Centerville, said the report will help solve a big problem.
“With good data and the talent in Utah, we can move these things forward,” he told FOX 13 News.
Read the report here:
This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative. The Great Salt Lake Collaborative is a solutions journalism initiative that partners with news, education, and media organizations to inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake and what they can do to make a difference before it’s too late. . To read our full story, go to greatsaltlakenews.org.