Proposed rule would improve water quality, raise sewer rates
The state is getting serious about reducing the amount of P in Utah's lakes and streams. The same goes for N. That could wind up adding a few dollars to your monthly sewer bills.
"P" is chemical shorthand for the element phosphorus and "N" stands for nitrogen. Both are contained in every living cell, so both are good things. The problem is that more than a third of the state's priority rivers and lakes have too much of these good things, causing a situation called nutrient pollution.
Algae love nutrients
Microorganisms and plants such as algae will be fruitful and multiply until they reach the limits of their nutrient supply. Excess amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen compounds in water create such things as algal blooms that outstrip the environment's ability to cope with, choking fish, making water taste bad and producing toxins that make water unsafe for drinking or swimming.
The state's Water Quality Board voted unanimously to seek public comment on a proposal to reduce the amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen compounds discharged from Utah's wastewater treatment plants. The rule would mandate a technology-based limit of 1 milligram per liter of phosphorus, about a 50 percent reduction. By way of comparison, penny's mass is 2,500 milligrams.
Jeff Richens, General Manager of the Price River Water Improvement District, said another aspect of the rule would limit total inorganic nitrogen compounds to 10 milligrams per liter. PRWID's treatment plant at Wellington already uses a bacterial process that removes ammonia. However, Richens explained that the ammonia-eating bacteria release nitrates and nitrites when they die.
According to information provided by the Division of Water Quality, reduction of nutrient pollutants could add about $3.47 a month to typical sewer bills.
Although phosphorus and nitrogen compounds can enter the lakes and rivers via such things as runoff from farms and city storm drains, state water quality experts think the most bang for the buck for near-term reductions will come from limiting discharge from sewer plants. Other means of reducing nutrients over the long term could come from reducing agricultural nonpoint sources and concentrating on a watershed-based approach in pristine headwaters.
The Division of Water Quality notes that there is are economic and quality-of-life incentives for the reduction of nutrient pollution. A study last year showed that Utahns spend anywhere from $1.4 to $2.4 bill a year on water-based activities, and that they show support for preserving water quality.
The public comment period began on June 1 and runs through Aug. 1. In addition, there will be six public hearings across the state. There will be a joint public hearing for Price City and PRWID on July 17 at 7 p.m. in the Price Civic Auditorium.