Important efforts could be underway in the coming years for Echo and Rockport Reservoirs to improve their water quality, and it will require the participation of state, county and private parties. The water quality concerns came after a state study found the level of dissolved oxygen in both reservoirs is too low.
"The dissolved oxygen levels that occur in the reservoirs dropped below what they needed to be at for a coldwater fishery," said Mike Luers, general manager of the Snyderville Basin Water Reclamation District. "The state was required to conduct a study under the Clean Water Act to determine why [oxygen levels are low]."
Dissolved oxygen levels are too low due to excessive loading of phosphorus and nitrogen into the reservoirs. These nutrients, which are found in fertilizer and wastewater effluent, promote the growth of algae in water, Luers said. However, at night algae consume oxygen, and when there is too much algae, the oxygen content diminishes.
This lack of oxygen in the water is not suitable for trout, and it also impacts water quality. Luers said the Snyderville Basin Water Reclamation District will need to upgrade its Silver Creek water reclamation facility as part of the Division of Water Quality's recommendations. It will contribute half of the $30 million needed for the upgrade.
But runoff from wastewater facilities across the Basin and the East Side is only half of the issue. With pollution from non-point sources such as agricultural and grazing land, construction sites, urban development and roads, steps must be taken as well -- though such efforts will be voluntary, says Utah Department of Environmental Quality Director Walter Baker.
Part of the solution could be imposing more strict standards for septic systems in the area, Baker said, or connecting homes to sewer infrastructure. Summit County Health Department Director Richard Bullough said this is already a priority for the department.
"In Weber Canyon, we're going to take a look and start mapping where septic systems are. If we have a cluster where we know the systems are 30 [or more] years old, that may be an area we focus on," Bullough said.
In addition to participating in the implementation of the DWQ study, Bullough said the Health Dept. will be doing surface, ground and well water testing in the Snyderville Basin. He added there has been strong collaboration with the state on the matter.
The Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, which is the sole operator of Rockport Reservoir and is a stockholder in Echo, will also play a role in improving the reservoirs' water quality. General Manager Tage Flint said the water districts involved need to know how to balance water quality with delivering contracted water efficiently.
"We're looking at the overall health of the watershed -- of aquatic species and plant life -- because a healthy watershed is in the best interest to ensure water quality," Flint said. "Reservoir operation has to be done in a way that can help water quality and deliver the amounts of water that are under contract."
Because the cost of the study could be near $30 million just to address non-point sources, Baker said the DWQ will present these facts before an interim meeting of the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee before taking the study before the EPA for approval.
"Water quality is important because we're the ones drinking it -- we're the ones fronting the cost for treating that water," Flint said.