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EPA SAYS 43% OF UTAH RIVERS ARE `IMPAIRED’

SHARE EPA SAYS 43% OF UTAH RIVERS ARE `IMPAIRED’

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says 43 percent of Utah rivers and 39 percent of lakes are "impaired," meaning they are in poor or fair condition.

That's about the national average, where 38 percent of U.S. rivers and 44 percent of lakes are impaired, according to the EPA's just-printed National Water Quality Inventory."We as a nation have made important strides toward cleaning up America's waterways, yet 40 percent of our rivers, lakes and estuaries are still not suitable for fishing and swimming," EPA Administrator Carol Browning wrote in the report.

It comes as Congress is debating updating the Clean Water Act this year and is considering proposals that the Clinton administration says would allow more local flexibility in controlling pollution.

The EPA said Utah assessed the quality of 7,557 miles of streams and rivers in 1992. It found that 4,293 miles (57 percent) were in "good" condition, 1,180 miles (16 percent) were "fair," and 2,084 (27 percent) were "poor."

Utah also assessed 450,078 acres of lakes. It found that 274,083 acres (60 percent) were in good condition, 142,417 acres were "fair," and 35,578 were "poor."

A "fair" rating means "water quality fails to meet designated use criteria at times" for purposes such as aquatic life support, swimming, drinking water and irrigation that are designated as appropriate for a given body of water.

A poor rating means water quality "frequently fails" to meet such criteria.

The Jordan River is classified as fair because its fecal coliform levels exceed the standard for aquatic life support, said Tom Toole, environmental scientist with the Utah Division of Water Quality.

The Bear River system and Utah Lake receive a poor rating, Toole said. Both have problems with sedimentation and nutrient build-up.

Pollution in the Bear River system results primarily from surrounding agriculture and areas where municipal discharges feed into the waters, Toole said. Utah Lake's problem of nutrient build-up comes mainly from the large number of streams that drain into it.

The EPA also reported how many waters were impaired for different types of designated uses.

When it came to aquatic life support, the EPA said 38 percent of assessed Utah rivers and 39 percent of assessed lakes were impaired.

When it came to swimming, less than 1 percent of both assessed lakes and rivers were impaired (including just 12 river miles and 1,000 acres of lake water).

When it came to drinking water support, 100 percent of Utah lakes were considered to be in "good" condition, as were 99 percent of its rivers. Just 11 river miles were in poor condition.

When it came to producing water of adequate quality for irrigation as designated, 19 percent of assessed rivers were "impaired." But 100 percent of the lakes assessed were in good condition.

The report also listed major types of pollution in Utah waters and their major causes.

It said organic enrichment or low dissolved oxygen contributed to pollution in 165,587 acres of lakes and 345 miles of rivers; excess nutrients polluted 156,624 lake acres; siltation polluted 127,647 lake acres; salinity polluted 1,318 river miles; and metals polluted 941 river miles and 4,909 lake acres.

The EPA said natural causes contributed to pollution on 3,840 miles of Utah rivers and 114,826 acres of lakes. The natural aging process of lakes causes nutrients and algae to build up, Toole said. Recreation and agriculture can accelerate this aging and polluting process.

"It's sometimes difficult to separate whether pollution is natural or enhanced by man's activity," Toole said.

The EPA report said pollution from farming and other agricultural operations (which can increase salinity or introduce pesticides, for example) contributed to problems on 168,000 acres of lakes and 1,158 miles of rivers.

Urban runoff contributed to pollution on 46,953 lake acres and 24 river miles. Industrial dumping contributed to pollution on 97,605 lake acres.