John Whitehead

Finding the balance:
Regulatory pathways for a unique water-body

The Great Salt Lake presents a somewhat unusual situation in the context of the Clean Water Act. As a terminal water-body, it is the ultimate catchment for three significant river systems that drain the vast majority of northern Utah and portions of Wyoming, Idaho, and Nevada. Included in this enormous drainage area comes the dubious distinction of being the recipient of around 70 % of Utah’s wastewater effluent. Some 2.2 million people rely on the ability to dispose of their wastewater either directly into the GSL or into the river systems that drain to the lake. In addition, numerous industrial dischargers route wastewater streams to the GSL. Couple these facts with serious concerns about toxic metals such as selenium and mercury along with the GSL being one of the key migratory bird stopovers in North America, and you have a complicated backdrop to a myriad of regulatory questions and issues.

This talk will cover how the discharge permits that allow waste-water streams into the GSL are crafted? What water quality criteria and standards are used to develop effluent limitations? Are these effluent limits truly protective of the beneficial uses for the GSL? How can we best navigate through these issues within the context of the Clean Water Act, local political influences and the desires of a variety of industries that make their living on or adjacent to the Great Salt Lake?

John has over 25 years of water quality related experience in surface and ground water issues in Utah. He is currently an assistant director in the Division of Water Quality supervising the Surface Water Discharge Permitting and Watershed Protection programs. He is also chairman of the Statewide Mercury Workgroup.John’s prior work experience includes writing and implementing Total Maximum Daily Load studies, developing watershed restoration plans, groundwater protection, permitting and clean up work as well as mining reclamation & permitting.John holds degrees in Watershed Science from Utah State University and Business Administration from New Mexico State University.

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