Roundup Tuesday August 4, 2009

Feds speeding up removal of Moab uranium tailings—AP, KSL 7/30/09

The US Department of Energy said it plans to double the tonnage of uranium tailings removed each day from near the Colorado River.  Currently 2,800 of the 16 million tons of waste are railed each day to a dump site 30 miles northeast where the tailings are placed in specially designed cells.  A second train will be added in mid-August.  Removal of the massive tailings near Moab, Utah began in April, with 160,000 tons removed so far in the $1 billion cleanup.  The additional train will be funded by $108 million in federal stimulus funds.

Report:  Public lands see increase of OHV use—Susan Montoya Bryan, AP, Santa Cruz Sentinel 7/30/09

The Government Accountability Office report noted that OH use has grown over the past five years, while US Forest Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management resources for response have dwindled.  All three agencies, which manage over 530 million acres, said the main challenge to OHV management on their public lands was having too few employees to enforce regulations.  As an example, the BLM’s Grand Junction, Colo. office has one officer to oversee 1.3 million acres.

Agency law enforcement officers are also expected to control gang activity, prevent illegal drug activities, and respond to impacts on resources and public safety from illegal smuggling activities along the US border, the report says.  According to the executive director of D.C.-based Americans for Responsible recreational Access, the report is saying “OHV recreation is not sustainable unless we have the adequate financial resources and personnel to deal with it”.

Surveys of land managers across the country, interview with interest groups and reviews of existing OHV policies comprise the report, noting illegal as well as legal use increases on the public lands from 2004-2008.  Population growth near federal lands and increasing popularity of OHV recreation are key causes according to land managers.  OHV closures on state and private lands have also contributed to increased public lands use.

Critics of OHV use pointed to places like the Tonto National Forest in Arizona where erosion problems have been documented, and the BLM’s Phoenix district, where OHV use has impacted desert tortoise habitat.  Land managers say damage typically occurred on less than 20% of managed lands, though a few officials reported 80% or more of their lands impacted.  Off-road users say the report shows things aren’t as grim as environmentalists say.

The southwest director for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility said the Forest Service and BLM make decisions and produce land use plans that allow for OHV use beyond management abilities.  While management actions were taken, the report said, “officials reported that they cannot sustainably manage their OHV route systems.”  A spokesman for the Blue Ribbon Coalition said the statement could apply to any program in the agencies’ purview.

The report recommends improved planning and time tables for meeting recreation goals on public lands, as well as improved communication with the public and enhanced enforcement.  Conservationists and OHV enthusiasts alike reportedly support enforcement, along with stiff fines.  The Blue Ribbon Coalition’s spokesman said “We want to see rangers on bikes, we want to see them on quads, we want to see them in four-wheel drives.  We want them out where the problems are, citing the guys who are doing the bad stuff.”

Iraq in throes of environmental catastrophe, experts say—Liz Sty, Los Angeles Times 7/30/09,0,3137832.story

Dust storms have become nearly a daily phenomenon says one Baghdad local.  Dozens of years of war and mismanagement and two years of drought are drying up riverbeds and marshes, turning arable land into desert, killing trees and plants, and turning the region’s most fertile area into a barren land.

Once a food exporter, Iraq will import nearly 80% of its food this year, diverting money that could have been used for reconstruction.  A social scientist with the US military said “We’re talking about something that’s making the breadbasket of Iraq look like the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma in the early part of the 20th century.”  The slightest wind can produce a days long dust squall.

While sandstorms occur naturally, added dust on the dried-out region is leading to frequent and longer lasting storms.  The chief of the US military’s Staff Weather Office said over twice as many dusty days were reported over the last two summers than the previous four.  For 35% of the time, visibility is reduced to fewer than 3 miles—normally considered unsafe to fly.  And visibility is often zero during those days creating problems not the least of which are sending thousands to hospitals with breathing problems.

Though the land was once fertile due to available water, that water no longer exists.  The fertile plains known between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers for feeding much of the Middle East are now suffering from desertification, and experts say the remaining arable land is eroding at 5% per year.

Officials blame human error, though no scientific evidence proving that tank movements in the desert have stirred up the dust has been collected and analyzed.  Still, farmers were encouraged by the government to till marginal land to increase food production, and when it failed they abandoned it, stripped of vegetation.

Chronic electricity shortages have led to chopping down trees for firewood, denuding more land.  The shortages have also left canal pumps idle where once they filled irrigation canals that watered lands far from rivers.  Power stations shut down for days at a time for lack of water, which has been compounded by the drought.  Last year showed 20% of normal rainfall, this year, about half.

Upstream, Turkey and Syria have cut the Euphrates river flow in half to combat drought in their nations.  And water from the Tigris river has been diverted to keep the Euphrates flowing, creating problems for communities along that river.  Iran also has been building dams on tributaries that flow into Iraq, drying out rivers in eastern Iraq.

Drinking water is growing scarce in the south where saltwater is leaching into depleted rivers.  Renowned marshes in southern Iraq that were drained by Saddam Hussein and re-flooded after the US invasion are drying up, forcing Marsh Arabs to abandon their homes and lifestyles once again.  And the dust storms whip talcum powder-like silt into every nook and cranny of urban homes.

Chief soil monitor of the Environment Ministry in Iraq said the dust “causes health problems, it disrupts business, it destroys machinery, not to mention the psychological effects…It’s a catastrophe that’s affecting every aspect of Iraqi life.”  The country’s Environment Minister said the country needs a large infusion of international aid to rehabilitate agriculture and plant trees and negotiate water-sharing treaties with Turkey and Syria.

Beijing closing coal plants in environmental move—AP, Boston Globe 7/30/09

Assisted by a drop in demand owing to the global financial crisis, authorities have sped up a campaign to close small coal-fired power plants.  Approximately 7,467 generating units have been taken offline 18 months ahead of schedule, according to the deputy administrator of the Cabinet’s National Energy Administration.  China gets about 60% of its power from coal.

Smaller, less efficient power plants are being closed and wind, solar, and other clean sources are being encouraged.  The closures are expected to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions responsible for acid rain by around 1.1 million tons and CO­2 output by 124 million tons per year, the deputy administrator said.  400,000 workers will be moved to new jobs.

China and the US are the world’s largest emitters of CO2. the primary greenhouse gas driving human-caused global warming.  The Netherlands’ Environmental Assessment Agency reported China produced 6.2 billion tons of CO2 in 2006.  While Beijing says it is committed to reducing emissions, China is resisting binding goals.  The onus China says is on developed countries to reduce their emissions.

China seeks in the closings rather to make sulfur dioxide emission reduction a priority.  Acid rain has contaminated its rivers and damaged its forests.  More small plant closures are in the offing, though closures have resulted in some local officials and managers restarting the plants after official closure.  The Finance Ministry is promoting solar power development with promises to foot 70% of system costs.

Plan for ATV access to Vermont land stirs debate—Lisa Rathke, AP, SLT 8/3/09

While the Vermont All Terrain Vehicle Sportsman’s Association (VASA) has developed a previous 600 mile network of trails on private lands and town roads, the group is eagerly awaiting the state’s Agency of Natural Resources rule that would allow ATV access to public lands.  Environmentally conscious opponents are against potential land erosion, water pollution, wetland destruction and noise.

Vermont’s Agency has taken almost 2,000 letters commenting on the issue, and letters to the editor of newspapers across the state have poured in.  The Conservation Law Foundation argues the state has not sufficiently studied environmental impacts.  Illegal off-trail riding has been a longstanding state problem as well.  The Natural Resources Secretary for Vermont said opening up state lands would diminish off-trail riding, much as it did with snowmobiles.

“They were a pariah.  Everybody didn’t like them.  They were everywhere and uncontrolled,” the Secretary commented.  “It took them quite a long time but they developed a system where that’s now a very well controlled form of recreation.  People use the trail system.  They are restricted to the trail system.

A spokesman for the Blue Ribbon Coalition, an Idaho-based OHV advocacy group, pointed out that other states allow ATVs public lands access.  “If the state land is supposed to be managed for the benefit of the public it seems reasonable that somewhere else could be identified to provide for recreational opportunity for those citizens…It’s a popular activity, and it could be an economic benefit to a community.”

VASA has shown good trail management, working with almost 170 landowners and demonstrating the principle that with more active local clubs, there is less illegal riding, according to Vermont’s National Resources Secretary.  The agreement would give the secretary the power to review ATV access requests on state lands.  Environmental impacts, compatibility with other users on the land and effects on adjacent lands would be considered.  The requests would also have to describe how the trail would be built and maintained and address enforcement of rules.

A Conservation Law Foundation attorney points to Minnesota, which opened its forests to ATV use on designated trails in 2005.  “They’ve opened significant amounts of legal trails to ATV riders but they’ve been utterly unable to control the illegal trail riding that’s occurred from spurs off those legal trails.”  A Minnesota conservation officer said there is less illegal riding than when the state had no legal trails, but enforcement is a challenge.

Seniors take on the challenge of beating the heat—Maria Villasenor, SLT 8/3/09

Harold Mathews, 66 years old, has saved about $75 per month this summer over last by turning up the thermostat on his air conditioner and utilizing fans.  He also has been carrying a thermos of ice water, and utilizes the nearby senior’s center or library when necessary during the hottest part of the day.

Seniors on fixed incomes also have assistance programs they can rely on.  The Utah Food Bank, recognizing the added sensitivity of seniors to the heat, including the potential for being homebound, sponsors a Services for Seniors program that helps repair, maintain and replace air conditioning and swamp coolers.  About 800 seniors have been assisted.

Looking for ways to escape the heat without shelling out fixed-income monies on repairs, 77 year old Sona Wang spent last summer visiting her now-deceased husband in his nursing home room.  Services for Seniors installed a new swamp cooler in July, attending to other minor repairs as well.

A spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Health said that while no heat-related deaths have occurred in recent years, heat-related illnesses drive on average 100 people to emergency rooms each year.

Counties fear Utah selling out Snake Valley water—Brandon Loomis, SLT 8/3/09

Millard, Juab and Salt Lake county officials are seeking to block the deal between Utah Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Nevada.  Las Vegas seeks to tap the Snake Valley aquifer, which lies under the state line 60 miles southwest of Delta.  Locals fear the deal will dry up ranches and wildlife watering holes and send dust clouds east to Salt Lake City.

Las Vegas craves 50,000 acre-feet a year out of the deal, but local farmers, highly conscious of the preciousness of water in the dry valley, say that much water will drop the water table out of reach.  Others fear Fish Springs National Wildlife refuge could dehydrate, threatening migratory bird and threatened chub fish habitat.  Many opponents say since Southern Nevada Water Authority won’t hear the Las Vegas pipeline case until 2011, there is no need for Utah to rush the agreement.

The BLM and US Geological Survey are conducting groundwater studies of the area for the pipeline’s environmental impact statement.  The DNR’s director assures the agreement protects existing water users, air quality and fish wildlife.  Arguing that scientists need to understand how pumping could affect the aquifer and regional vegetation, Salt Lake County’s mayor called the agreement premature.  Dust storms could threaten road-building funds with more stringent federal particulate pollution rules.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority counters that the worst case scenario would be that vegetation in the area would change.  The Authority believes the sooner the agreement is hammered out, the better for everybody.  Salt Lake County’s request to intervene with the Nevada water engineer over the Las Vegas application was denied based on lack of legal standing.  An interstate accord remains for possible concessions, with the Utah governor’s office as arbiter.

Further complicating matters, Democrat and Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon is considering a gubernatorial challenge against Republican Lt. Governor Gary Herbert, who will take the Governor’s seat provided the Senate confirms Governor Huntsman’s ambassadorship to China.  Herbert’s spokesman said he’s still learning about the issue, but will provide opportunities for discussion for the counties and citizens, adding “We want to make sure we understand this issue well…It’s going to require a lot of public participation.”

White Pine County, Nevada officials also of the Snake Valley wrote to Governor Huntsman in June asking the agreement be delayed.  They too argue the science is not yet in.  One official said he doesn’t believe either state will be willing to make significant changes during the public comment period, and says the agreement should wait on the groundwater studies, perhaps as long as a year.  The DNR’s director has said the reason for completing the deal now will become apparent when it is done, and it affords Utah the best protection.

One major concern is that the agreement will protect current water used but sign away all future water rights.  An attorney for the Utah Association of Counties has said the counties are frustrated that DNR and the governor’s office has not included the counties in talks, and refuse to slow down the negotiations.

Utah Rep. Matheson to host roundtable on foreign waste ban—AP, SLT 8/3/09

The discussion, set at the Utah Capital Monday at noon, will host public comment on a bill sponsored by Matheson and Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., that would bar foreign radioactive waste from importation into the US unless it originated here or served a strategic national importance.  EnergySolutions recently applied to import up to 20,000 tons of radioactive waste from nuclear power plant cleanups in Italy.  The materials would be processed in Tennessee, leaving 1,600 tons to be disposed at EnergySolutions’ West Desert facility.

EnergySolutions could boost Utah nuclear waste storage—Brock Vergakis, AP, SLT 8/2/09

The 78% expansion of the country’s largest low-level radioactive waste dump may hinge on Governor Huntsman’s departure.  EnergySolutions backed off of expanding its capacity to 9.8 million cubic yards of waste in 2007 when the governor threatened to block its application with a regional compact.  In the settlement signed by Huntsman and company CEO Steve Creamer, EnergySolutions withdrew the application and agreed not to dispose of hotter radioactive waste in Utah.

Huntsman’s concession allowed the company to use 3.6 million yards of space reserved for uranium mine tailings instead for decommissioned nuclear power plant waste.  The concession also agreed that as long as the company didn’t seek to expand, 5.5 million cubic yards of waste already licensed to the company would not be threatened by reductions from the compact.

While the company told the AP it would honor the Huntsman agreement, no firm commitment has been offered over whether that will change when the lieutenant governor steps up to take Huntsman’s place.  AP noted that after withdrawing its 2007 application to the Utah Radiation Control Board, EnergySolutions told the regulators the company reserved its right to seek future approval for expansion.

Demand for low-level radioactive waste disposal is expected to increase as nations around the world embrace nuclear power.   A spokesman for Lt. Governor Gary Herbert said he intends to continue to recognize the Huntsman-EnergySolutions agreement after he takes office.  But a federal judge has recently ruled that the regional compact doesn’t have the authority to regulate the facility.  The state is appealing this decision.

The executive director for Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HealUtah) said Herbert’s hands may be tied if the company pursues approval for expansion.  The facility is the only one available to 36 states and would like to import international waste to its western Utah desert facility.   About 1.8 million cubic yards of capacity remained in August of 2008.

The Huntsman agreement followed the company’s success in persuading lawmakers to take themselves and the governor out of the approval process for expanding the facility, as long as the company was not expanding its acreage.  Vertical stacking would be allowed given regulator approval.  Lawmakers also exempted themselves from difficult political decisions in a state where polls show most residents want their elected officials to decide what kind of waste and how much is stored in Utah.

Pesky burros to be removed from desert Army base—AP, SLT 8/1/09

As many as 100 wild burros from the Mojave Desert near the Fort Irwin Army base will be corralled and offered for adoption due to persistent trespassing.  Natural springs in the area draw the burros into Army base territory, the BLM said, adding that due to the animals’ popularity, there would probably be no problem finding homes for them.

Chevron donates land for Code Talkers museum—Felicia Fonseca, AP, SLT 8/1/09

Many of the Navajo Marines who used their language to thwart the Japanese during World War II are approaching their 90’s, and feel they have little time to tell their story.  The story, little known beyond Navajo circles, is a point of pride for the Code Talkers, four of which died recently.  Chevron Mining Inc., whose McKinley Mine is employer to a 95% Navajo workforce, donated 208 acres close to the highway for a museum and veterans center.

Because the Code Talkers program was secret, few recognize how important the Navajo and their language were in the success of many campaigns in World War II.  The land was signed over to the Navajo Code Talkers Association by Chevron’s mining president near Window Rock, New Mexico, the tribal capital, on Friday.

Hundreds of Navajos served as Code Talkers during the war, putting their language to use to create an unbreakable code for military communication on enemy tactics, troop movements and the like.  The Code Talkers were a part of every Pacific Theatre Marine assault from 1942 to the end of the war, including Guadalcanal, Saipan and Iwo Jima.  Their work was not declassified until 1968, and many Code Talkers hesitated even then to share the experience with their families.

The important service to the United States was kept from history books and open discussion for over 25 years.  Recognition received a boost in 2001 when the Congressional Gold Medal was presented by President George W. Bush to survivors of the original 29 code talkers.  The 2002 movie Windtalkers, starring Nicholas Cage, portrayed the Code Talkers in the battle for Saipan.

Less than three Code Talkers remain of the original group, and all told less than 100 are believed to be still alive.  Veteran Code Talkers see the museum as a place to share their stories and preserve their traditions, culture and language in an era of fading familiarity for younger generations.  The center will also host the community of veterans, offering them an opportunity to connect with one another.  The museum is expected to cost between $20 and $30 million, with later phases such as a veteran’s center, medical clinic and commercial property to sustain the museum and a language institute following.

Clunker deals keep car dealers hopping—Peggy Fletcher Stack, SLT 8/1/09

Mark Miller, who owns three Utah dealerships, said 100 cars had been delivered in the last week to the trio, and the downtown Toyota dealership saw four vehicles sold before noon on Saturday, “very unusual”, Miller said.  Other dealers noted very large upticks in business, driven by the federal program that offers $3,500 or $4,500 cash for fuel-thirsty models in exchange for fuel efficient ones.

The federal program, initiated July 24 ran through the initial $1 billion allotment, causing the House to vote another $2 billion for the program.  The Senate has yet to act.  The general sales manager of Ken Garff Honda noted that the program brought in about 35 additional purchasers for July, bringing the month’s tally to 180, much closer to the 220-230 cars sold last July.

Cliff fire soon to be contained—SLT 8/1/09

The fire burning in the Kolob Canyons area of Zion National Park since lightning ignition Tuesday was 85% contained Saturday.   744 acres have been burned by the fire.  While Kolob Canyons Scenic Drive was expected to re-open Sunday, hiking trails could remain closed for safety reasons another few days.

Ferruginous hawks in Uintah Basin get a boost through partnership—Bill Fenimore, SLT 7/31/09

The oil patch has been the center of energy development in Utah since 1948, but the past 20 years has seen a corresponding decrease in population and nesting activities of ferruginous hawks in the Basin.  Currently listed as a species of concern under the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR), they thrive in desert areas and nest in low hanging cedar trees or along cliff edges.

The hawks are sensitive to disturbances near low-lying nesting sites, and in a search for ways to boost hawk population by improving nesting areas, DWR biologists have found that the hawks will build nests on high artificial nesting platforms.  Conservation group Utah Wildlife in Need (UWIN) has partnered with DWR to erect the nesting platforms on 40- to 50-foot-high utility poles to accommodate the hawks in high energy development areas.

The research, conservation and education oriented UWIN in turn snared a $25,000 grant from the Newfield Exploration Company for installations and monitoring of the nesting sites.  The research could inform other states with similar issues.  Four of seven platforms already installed have beginning nesting signs.  Similar efforts elsewhere have involved Questar Exploration and Moon Lake Electric.

In a recent visit to all area nests, a DWR sensitive species biologist noted 10 active nests, 3 on platforms, 2 on ledges, and 5 in juniper trees.  The biologist identified 10 chicks grown to fledgling stage, six from platform nests.  He attributes the high failure rate to scarce food and increased chick predation.  All of the chicks were banded for identification, and nest numbering contributes to a large raptor database for the northeastern part of the state, coordinated by DWR, BLM, US Forest Service, and several consulting firms that are tracking in the oil patch.

Another 23 platforms are planned before spring of 2010 across the Basin.  Many will be in the Newfield production area south of Roosevelt in the Myton Bench area.  Graduate students from USU’s College of Natural Resources will help DWR with monitoring.  A spokesman for Newfield said the installations are “just one example of how our industry can continue to deliver valuable resources and still obtain the desired wildlife conservation results and reduce impacts to species and their habitat.”

Utah Wildlife in Need (UWIN):

Contaminated tank sites in Yellowstone to be cleaned—AP, SLT 7/31/09

The seven underground storage tank sites in Yellowstone National Park will be cleaned up under a partnership with Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.  Thousands of such sites exist across the nation, leaching fuel and other toxic substances into nearby soils and waters.  $3.9 million will go to the Yellowstone cleanup and for monitoring equipment at the sites, due to be in place by late fall.  Cleanup is expected to take 4-10 years on contamination found at a park maintenance shop at Canyon, the Bridge Bay Marina and service stations at Grant Village, Fishing Bridge, Lake, Canyon and Old Faithful.

Matheson’s dish-label warning passes the House—SLT 7/31/09

The law would require ceramic dish manufacturers to warn of possible lead poisoning.  Rep. Matheson D-Ut sponsored the bill after constituents notified him for more than a year of children falling ill due to lead poisoning linked to dinnerware.   The label would state:  “This product is made with lead-based glaze consistent with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines for such lead.”  Matheson has said that incorrect firing of the lead-based glaze and unsafe lead levels have resulted in illnesses.  “Armed with this disclosure, consumers can make an informed purchase,” Matheson said.  The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Utahn to join Interior’s Indian affairs team—SLT 7/31/09

Paul Tsosie, who began working for assistant Interior secretary of Indian affairs Larry Echohawk in mid-June, has been appointed Echohawk’s chief of staff.  Tsosie, a BYU graduate and law professor and former president of the Native American Law Student Association, started his own firm Tsosie & Hatch in 2002, focusing on Indian law and located in West Jordan.  He has also worked as a lobbyist for the Navajo Nation, of which he is a member, and a paralegal teacher at Utah Career College.

Wizipan Garriott will serve as Echohawk’s policy adviser, and Tracie Stevens will serve as a senior adviser.  “The knowledge, experience and abilities they bring to Indian affairs,” Echohawk reportedly stated, “will ensure that we can meet our priorities to protect Indian Country, advance Indian education and empower tribal communities.”

Stimulus money to accelerate Wasatch Front transit plan—Brandon Loomis, SLT 7/31/09

The Wasatch Front Regional Council will review its five-year Transportation Improvement Program in August, with upgrades funded by $25 million in stimulus grants for Salt Lake County and $12 million for Weber and Davis counties.  Stimulus monies were used for immediate needs including congestion management and air quality, leaving previously dedicated funds free for the plan’s projects.

Transit and road upgrades along 5600 West will widen the road between 6200 South and 7000 South, while bus rapid transit will be heavily funded between 6200 South and 2700 South in Kearns and West Valley City.  Both projects will receive $5 million apiece.  While the ultimate goal is a separate bus lane on 5600 West, the funding will only assist Utah Transit Authority in establishing passenger shelters and setting up a bus-favoring signal system like those along the first rapid bus line along 3500 south.

Officials expect the corridor will need to expand to five lanes to 8200 South to keep up with growth.  The bus line coincides with the Mountain View highway, both part of a transit upgrade on the Wasatch Front plan.  $5 million will be considered at the Aug. 27 meeting for expanding Ogden’s 40th Street access to Weber State University from two to four lanes.  $2.5 million will be proposed to add a center turn lane and shoulders to 800 North in Clinton, again due to rapid growth.  $6 million will be proposed for an additional lane on 13400 South from 4000 West to 4600 West in Riverton.

Who’s keeping Utah canals safe?—Matthew D. LaPlante, SLT 7/31/09

Millville Canal Co. faces a $97,000 price tag for a pipeline that would replace a canal over development near the Blacksmith Fork River.  Shareholders of the company decided the pipeline was the only way to guarantee safety for the new homes below from a canal breach.  Canal owners such as Millville are not required to report on the safety of their irrigation ditches and canals unless they approach the state for funding.

Compare this unregulated infrastructure management to government-based oversight of dams, bridges, buildings and roads.  No government or independent oversight inspection program exists for the waterways.  One exception is the Bureau of Reclamation’s review of 31 canals owned by the bureau in the state, eight of which were labeled “high hazards”.

A 19-mile stretch of the Strawberry Highline Canal above a number of Utah County residents has been called a potential hazard by the federal government, though the company’s president is confident their oversight and maintenance is sufficient.  Reclamation officials note that their waterways are checked daily, inspected annually and given an extensive review every third year.

Still, failures have happened.  In 2008 a 30 foot segment of the Truckee Canal in Nevada broke, flooding almost 600 homes and displacing thousands of occupants.  Reclamation had labeled the canal “high hazard”, but public awareness was minimal.  The label has been developed in the wake of urbanization below canals.  A “high hazard” designation could threaten more than 500 people or cost more than $5 million in property damage, if the waterway fails.

The Strawberry Highline canal, which passes through Spanish Fork, Salem, Payson and Santaquin on the way to its terminus in Genola, will receive an extensive field inspection later this year along with an infrared aerial examination capable of identifying leakage.   Stimulus funds totaling $10-million will be used by Reclamation for Strawberry and other canals of concern across 17 Western states.  Monies for repairs—and inspection of 7 other waterways of concern—have yet to materialize.

Though the federal program inspects canals and identifies dangerous issues, much more comprehensive than any state-based approach in Utah, less than 5% of Utah’s canals fall under its jurisdiction.  That leaves safety and infrastructure improvement choices up to private canal companies, governed by hands-off irrigation law relatively unchanged since inception in the early 1900’s.  Since that time, development around canal lines has boomed.  General safety governance and water protection law exists, but standards, responsibility for enforcement and investigation of issues is nonexistent.

In the last 100 years, a number of landslides, mudslides and floods topping tens of millions of dollars in repairs, property damages and legal settlements, have been pinned to canal failures.  The July 11 failure was the first known to take lives, leaving a regulation-resistant, agricultural economy-protective state legislature unmotivated to change “laissez-faire irrigation law.”  Notably, a 1999 Riverdale canal collapse which destroyed a number of homes and became the impetus of state inspection legislation garnished little support for the bill, which would have appropriated but $350,000 for assessment of the state’s 5,300 miles of canals.  One lawmaker said “when you’re dealing with human life, that’s what changes the rules.”

Director Nelson Peterson of the non-profit Utah and Salt Lake Canal Company, which owns 27 miles of irrigation canal, says “he doesn’t figure he needs government to tell him how to make it safer.”  Petersen wants help keeping development away from the banks of the canal.  Near where the canal begins in Bluffdale, a homeowner has cut into the canal bank, reducing the barrier between one of Utah’s largest canals and homes below.  Petersen can maintain the canal along a provided easement, but the problem with the homeowner would require a lawsuit.  Petersen said he has to pick his lawsuit battles.

The state’s Executive Water Task Force, directed to review canal safety after the Logan collapse, sympathize with owners like Petersen.  The task force is comprised of farmers, canal owners, and attorneys who represent water-rights holders, and will begin Tuesday to debate who should oversee Utah’s canals.  A key issue is whether canal company shareholders should foot the bill for all the development—and potential damages—that have sprung up since the canals were put in place largely to service agricultural needs in communities.  An attorney on the task force practiced in municipal water ordinances suggested a public-private partnership may be in order.

Utah and Salt Lake Canal Company’s Petersen said; “There isn’t a person in the world that can say, ‘Hey, my canal is safe, nothing is going to happen’.  That canal can get away from you just so quick it’s unbelievable.  And when it does, the damage is done.”

More project than money for program to help aging canals—Matthew D. LaPlante, SLT 7/31/09

Because the Utah Division of Water Resources has no regulatory authority, Director Dennis Strong said the only way they become aware of a problem is if the problem is self-identified by private water companies.  Millville Irrigation Company acknowledged such a risk with a canal near Blacksmith Fork River and decided to replace a section of canal with pipeline, after the length of canal was placed in “Prioritization Category 1”, high priority projects due to risk to public health or safety.  Three quarters of the repair costs will be loaned by the division, provided the money shows up in the division’s coffers.

The board for the Utah Division of Water Resources usually receives around $30 million per year from the state legislature.  The moneys fund water improvement projects, but 80% is predisposed to safety improvements on ailing dams per a 1996 law.  Canal companies can apply only for no- and low-cost loans.  With legislative-driven recession-based budget cuts, the division’s budget is a mere $14 million for 2009, though $25 million may be approved next year.  Those funds would not go far to address the over $125 million for projects on the drawing board and $50 million in additional dam and canal improvements under consideration.

Still, available loan funds could update infrastructure and improve safety, but because no regulation exists, companies may choose to put off spendy upgrades and renovations.  Logan & Northern Irrigation Company, owner of the ill-fated canal that collapsed in Logan killing three last month, was issued repeated warnings over the stability of the water channel.  A 2005 state-issued study indicated slides were probable in the area that recently tore out.  Yet the company neglected to apply to the division for assistance.

Activists battle new uranium mine—Judy Fahys, SLT 7/31/09

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Uranium Watch seek to block Utah’s first new uranium mine in three decades.  The mine, to be located about 10 miles from Natural Bridges National Monument, has been permitted by the BLM.  The environmental groups want the land management agency to halt Australia-based White Canyon Uranium pending sufficient review of the BLM’s environmental study of the mine and consequences of mining.

An attorney for SUWA said many uranium mining-related issues were not adequately assessed ahead of issuing permits.  One BLM official said they had consented to reviewing the possibility of a stay.  Uranium Watch noted the environmental assessment did not look at possible radon emissions.  Cumulative impacts of the Daneros and other nearby mines also were not addressed.  Currently, the Daneros site holds tailings from past uranium operations.  Truck travel on backcountry roads from the mine to the mill in Blanding also should be considered, SUWA’s attorney said.

Uranium mining in the Four Corners area fell off recently as Uranium fell from $135/lb two years ago to $47/lb in July.  Denison Mines, which also operates the Blanding mill, as four of seven local mines on standby.  The BLM is taking the activist groups’ request under consideration.  In the final decision releasing the permit back in May, the agency offered a “finding of no significant impact”.

Small but tall:  Male giraffe born at Utah zoo—AP, SLT 7/31/09

The giraffe was born to first time mother Kipenzi and father Riley, both 6 years old.  The infant is expected to grow an inch per day, weighs about 110 pounds and could run the day he was born.  Mother giraffes gestate for a period of 14-15 months.  Adults average 17 feet in height and can weigh 3,000 pounds, with necks up to 6 ½ feet long.

Utah rancher gets agency job—SLT 7/30/09

Arthur Douglas, rancher and Utah Farmers Union president since 1997, was appointed director recently of the US Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency.  Also a former secretary of the National Farmers Union, Douglas served last year on a steering committee that advised President Obama’s campaign committee on rural issues, and chaired the Governor’s Agricultural Advisory Board from 2001-2006.

‘Miniscule’ amount of radioactive material lost, likely buried, in crash—Judy Fahys, SLT 7/30/09

About 8 microcuries of radioactive americium-241 vanished in an F-16 crash at the Utah Test and Training Range in June.  The crash killed 28 year old pilot George Bryan Houghton of Hill Air Force Base.  Americium has a half-life of 432 years.  About the same amount of the radioactive material as is found in four to eight smoke detectors may be buried in 6 feet of mud at the crash site.  Military officials filed a “Current Event Notification Report” two weeks ago with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Americium is used in testing devices, and was released into the atmosphere during atomic testing.  Experts with the EPA say with the 2 microcuries in smoke detectors, the health risk is “negligible” as long as it remains in its casing.  The lost Americium is located in a remote part of the testing range, and examiners at the crash site searched using radiation detecting devices with no luck.  The amount lost falls within an international radioactive-material category for “sources that are very unlikely to cause permanent injury to individuals or contain a very small amount of radioactive material that would not cause permanent injury.”


Mass transit mania—RE:  The Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2009, Tribune Editorial, SLT 8/2/09

Jones:  Time for a reproductivity tax—Casey Jones, Tribune Editorial Board, SLT 8/2/09

Overpopulation:  The elephant in the room—Elise Lazar, co-chair Salt Lake Mayor’s Green Team, SLT 8/1/09

Clean Energy and Security Act shifts wealth—Arnold W. Reitze, Jr., professor of law and member of the Institute for Clean and Secure Energy, University of Utah, SLT 8/1/09

Rushing to agree—RE:  the Nevada-Utah water deal, Tribune Editorial, SLT 7/31/09


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