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Lakebed dust is a worry in Utah. In California, it’s already a problem

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Lakebed dust is a worry in Utah. In California, it’s already a problem


Sitting on the couch next to his mom inside their mobile home in Mecca, California, 5-year-old Ruben Mandujano lets out a gurgled cough while playing on a tablet. The phlegm stuck in his throat is noticeable. But the constant cough is something he’s used to.

His mother, Rosa Mandujano said he came down with some kind of illness about “eight out of the 12 months of the year” when he was younger. Now, after various surgeries, an asthma diagnosis, medications and a nebulizer, Mandujano estimates her son is sick “five months out of the 12.”

The family has grown accustomed to the frequent infections. Both of their children suffer from asthma. A cupboard in their kitchen is dedicated to dozens of over-the-counter and prescription drugs.

Mandujano said her son’s problems get worse when the air quality is awful – another common issue for Coachella and Imperial Valley residents. Mecca, where the Mandujano family lives, is enveloped by agricultural fields and a short distance from the north shore of the declining Salton Sea, a saline lake facing similar turmoil as Utah’s Great Salt Lake.

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Dust storms have become the norm being so close to agricultural fields and the Salton Sea, she said. Winds reaching 75 miles per hour whip through predominantly low-income and immigrant communities. The dust gets so bad, Mandujano said, that “you can’t see what’s in front of you.”

Kristin Murphy

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Deseret News

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Dust lingers after OHVs drove by in West Shores, Calif., on Friday, Dec. 15, 2023.

With the exposed Salton Sea lakebed and the loose dirt and pesticides from the surrounding fields, Mandujano said it’s rare to find a Coachella Valley resident who doesn’t suffer from allergies or asthma. But the impact of the bad air quality and dust storms is worse for some, like Ruben.

“His asthma and his allergies combine, it’s a ticking bomb for him,” Mandujano said. “He says that everything hurts. His ears hurt, his eyes hurt, his nose hurts. He doesn’t even want to get touched.”

When the phlegm won’t leave his throat, Ruben has to use a nebulizer, which circulates well-known asthma medications like Albuterol or Pulmicort through a mask. Mandujano said she hooks her son up to the nebulizer about 121 times a year.

“He hates it because it makes him throw up because it gathers all of the phlegm,” Mandujano said. “He knows he’s going to start throwing up. So he just says, ‘Mommy, I don’t like this,’ and keeps trying to take it off.”

While Rosa Mandujano fights to keep her family healthy, California state leaders, scientists and community advocates are trying to identify solutions to clean up the air, especially as it pertains to the dust accumulated from the Salton Sea. Like Great Salt Lake, there are toxins in the sediment of the exposed lake bed.

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Charlie Diamond, University of California, Riverside, Earth and Planetary Sciences Department academic coordinator, talks about the Salton Sea during an interview in front of hay bales used for dust mitigation by Bombay Beach, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023.

Kristin Murphy

/

Deseret News

Charlie Diamond, University of California, Riverside, Earth and Planetary Sciences Department academic coordinator, talks about the Salton Sea during an interview in front of hay bales used for dust mitigation by Bombay Beach, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023.

Scattered near the roughly 27,000 acres of exposed Salton Sea playa are lines of hay bales.

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Charlie Diamond, a researcher with the Salton Sea Task Force at the University of California Riverside, said it’s a “dust suppression project” aimed to “break up the flow of air right at the ground level.” The goal, Diamond said, is for the hay bales to “suppress the dust production or emission.”

During high wind events, Diamond said toxins and other sediments like gypsum and salt get “blown around in the surrounding communities, [and] causes a lot of problems with respiratory health, especially in young folks.”

Usually, Diamond said, the hay bales are planted with native vegetation, which the shoreline severely lacks. That acts as another dust suppressant. But “these projects are really contingent on some external source of freshwater,” Diamond added, and that’s the crux of the issue – in the arid climate, there isn’t enough fresh water making its way to the Salton Sea to begin with.

With an exorbitant amount of dried lakebed, it’s unlikely hay bales will prevent all the dust from pummeling community members.

“That’s not a solution, it’s a band-aid,” Diamond said.

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Local officials are working on other remedies. The Imperial Irrigation District, which oversees the hay bale projects, is also planting and germinating natural vegetation near the shoreline. Environmental specialist Ross Wilson said the district is using groundwater to hydrate the plants.

Hay bales used for dust mitigation in a Salton Sea Management Program project are pictured on approximately 68 acres near Bombay Beach, Calif., on Monday, Dec. 11, 2023. Some corresponding seeding to establish vegetation was attempted during last year’s rains, but further planting is on hold until a water source is confirmed.

Kristin Murphy

/

Deseret News

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Hay bales used for dust mitigation in a Salton Sea Management Program project are pictured on approximately 68 acres near Bombay Beach, Calif., on Monday, Dec. 11, 2023. Some corresponding seeding to establish vegetation was attempted during last year’s rains, but further planting is on hold until a water source is confirmed.

Wilson said there isn’t a way to “necessarily make less dust,” the hope is the natural vegetation “catches the dust” like the hay bales and results in better air quality.

The agency also uses a Portable In-Situ Wind ERosion Lab, also known as a PI-SWERL, to figure out what exactly is in the dust. The device, which resembles an industrial floor polisher, replicates wind speeds and collects air quality measurements. Wilson added it also tracks which areas produce the most emissions.

“No one has the money to just mitigate the entire sea. So if we can dial down which areas actually are emissive and which areas are the problem, then we can really nail down our resources to those specific areas,” he said.

If more water isn’t funneled into the Salton Sea, the Imperial Irrigation District predicts upward of 70,000 acres of bare lakebed within the next 10 years.

Utah’s Great Salt Lake is up against the same fate as the Salton Sea when it comes to dust.

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Ross Wilson, Imperial Irrigation District environmental specialist, poses for a portrait with a PI-SWERL, which stands for Portable In-Situ Wind ERosion Lab, in Salton City, Calif., on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.

Kristin Murphy

/

Deseret News

Ross Wilson, Imperial Irrigation District environmental specialist, poses for a portrait with a PI-SWERL, which stands for Portable In-Situ Wind ERosion Lab, in Salton City, Calif., on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023.

Great Salt Lake Commissioner Brian Steed noted in the state’s first Great Salt Lake Strategic Plan that the lake’s low water levels are increasing dust emissions. He added the accumulation from the estimated 800 square miles of the exposed lake bed poses a public health risk and is causing snow to melt approximately 17 days sooner than normal.

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Steed told KUER’s RadioWest that he believes dust from Great Salt Lake is “going to be the hardest one [problem] to solve.”

“When you have an exposed lake bed that weathers over time, which has happened over years, you see additional dust days and problems with PM 2.5 and PM 10,” he said. “And we know that we’ve had a problem [with air quality] along the Wasatch Front especially.”

The Utah Office of Legislative Auditor General highlighted in the Great Salt Lake Strategic Plan that it would cost a minimum of $1.5 billion to keep the lake’s dust at bay, along with $15 million each year for ongoing maintenance.

Steed recognizes the price tag associated with dust mitigation. In an ideal world, “the lowest cost alternative” is lifting Great Salt Lake’s water levels so the crust “keeps that dust in place.”

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Rosa Mandujano shows a cupboard full of medicine related to her two children’s asthma at their home near the Salton Sea and Mecca, California, on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023.

Kristin Murphy

/

Deseret News

Rosa Mandujano shows a cupboard full of medicine related to her two children’s asthma at their home near the Salton Sea and Mecca, California, on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023.

Utah is just beginning to grapple with its looming dust problem, but for Rosa Mandujano in California, the dust is enough to make her contemplate if it’s worth staying in her hometown. Her two kids love to be outdoors, but the air quality often triggers adverse reactions, especially for Ruben, forcing them to remain inside.

“I’ve talked to my husband and said if we get a good job opportunity and we would have to move out of the state, I mean, let’s go,” Mandujano said. “I know it’s scary because my family’s here. All his family’s here, but I’ve seen friends done it. It’s nothing out of the world. You have to start somewhere.”

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KSLTV5’s Alex Cabrero contributed to this report

Copyright 2024 KUER 90.1





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Utah

Could EPA air quality standards be Utah’s first test of its new sovereignty law?

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Could EPA air quality standards be Utah’s first test of its new sovereignty law?


Top Utah officials aren’t happy with federal air quality standards. And their ammunition to fight back could jeopardize the state’s federal highway funding or even the federal government overriding how the state handles air quality to begin with.

In February, Gov. Spencer Cox called the stricter regulations imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency “onerous” and “so stringent” that it will be “impossible” for the state to comply. The EPA reduced the amount of PM2.5 and ozone pollution allowed in the atmosphere, making it harder to fall within the attainment standards, which Utah hasn’t met since 2006. The Utah Attorney General’s Office has filed and joined other states in challenging the agency over its mandates, like the “Good Neighbor Rule,” which targets ozone pollution emitted across state lines.

The majority of the Utah Legislature is so unhappy with the regulations it partly inspired a new state law that aims to push back. Republican Sen. Scott Sandall’s 2024 “Utah Constitutional Sovereignty Act” sets up a process for the state to opt out of federal regulations they deem as overreach.

The first test of the new statute could be the looming air quality battle the state is picking over the updated air quality standards and the Clean Air Act. But it won’t be an easy sell.

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“If the state wants to test the red line,” said Brigham Daniels, a law professor at the University of Utah, “this is a risky one.”

During a May 15 Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Interim Committee meeting, Bryce Bird, the director of the Utah Division of Air Quality, said Utah is “still really struggling” to meet EPA ozone standards, especially in Salt Lake, Davis and parts of Weber and Tooele counties. But if the state doesn’t fall within the attainment zone of 70 parts per million, which is considered protective of public health, Utah could face federal funding sanctions.

“That prevents both federal funds being used to expand transportation projects here in that non-attainment area, but it also prohibits state funding from being used for regionally significant projects,” Bird said. “So it really does have that direct impact on the fastest growing metropolitan area in the country.”

If Utah still doesn’t clean up the air after funding is frozen, Bird said the federal government could swoop in and create its own plan for how Utah will meet ozone standards. If that comes to pass, the state “will lose flexibility and input into the plan.”

Utah and the Intermountain West face an uphill battle when it comes to meeting EPA ozone standards. Bird said states like Arizona, Utah and Colorado have “higher natural concentrations of ozone and a greater impact from international transport of the precursor emissions to ozone formation,” which places some of the problem outside of the state’s control.

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The fact that Utah isn’t solely responsible for ozone pollution within its boundaries is Sandall’s biggest complaint, calling it “the heart of the heartburn,” and that Utah doesn’t have to “try to comply to an uncontrollable standard.”

“That’s the message that we’ve got to send to the federal government is we can’t do that. There’s no way,” he said during the May 15 meeting. “So whether we do that through legislation, whether we do that through a lawsuit, whatever we do, we have to be the ones to say no.”

Republican Rep. Casey Snider followed Sandall’s comments by stating “perhaps there needs to be a fundamental shift in the key objectives” of the Utah Division of Air Quality centered around “pushing back on this overzealous nature of the federal government rather than simply complying with the impossible.”

Daniels said he’s sympathetic to the predicament the state is in because of what the EPA considers to be “a healthy air quality will be very difficult for the state to obtain,” given the outside exacerbating factors. But challenging the Clean Air Act isn’t that simple.

From his perspective, if Utah does take the steps to challenge the Clean Air Act under the Utah Constitutional Sovereignty Act, the state is likely to fail because of the Supremacy Clause, which says the Constitution and federal statutes are “the supreme law of the land,” trumping any state laws.

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Daniels added EPA employees are mandated by federal law to enforce the consequences of a state not complying with standards set by the Clean Air Act and a state sovereignty clause won’t stop them from doing so either.

“Within the realm of environmental law and natural resources law, you almost couldn’t have chosen a worse statute to gamble with,” Daniels said. “Because the federal government doesn’t have any discretion about whether or not it moves forward with sanctions.”





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What the new ESPN SP+ rankings tell us about BYU, Utah and Utah State

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What the new ESPN SP+ rankings tell us about BYU, Utah and Utah State


While there is still plenty of time until the 2024 college football season kicks off — for BYU and Utah State, the season is 100 days away, and 98 for Utah — that doesn’t stop the influx of discussion about the upcoming year.

One of the staples of preseason chatter is ESPN’s SP+ rankings, and earlier this week, Bill Connelly released his latest edition, i.e., the post-spring edition, and there are varying expectations for the three Utah FBS schools.

For the Utes, the 2024 season presents the chance to make a big impression in a new conference, the Big 12, while making a run at the expanded College Football Playoff with Cam Rising back and healthy.

For the Cougars, this year is projected to be another difficult learning season as the program adjusts to life at the power conference level.

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And for the Aggies, there’s been plenty of turnover again, though perhaps less pessimism surrounds the program heading into 2024 — and a hope the school can finish in the upper half of the Mountain West.

What does Connelly’s latest SP+ rankings — which are calculated on returning production, recent recruiting and recent history — project for these three schools?

These insights give a glimpse at how Utah, BYU and Utah State are viewed on a national scale heading into the year.

As Connelly explains, “SP+ is a tempo- and opponent-adjusted measure of college football efficiency. It is a predictive measure of the most sustainable and predictable aspects of football, not a résumé ranking, and along those lines, these projections aren’t intended to be a guess at what the AP Top 25 will look like at the end of the season. These are simply early offseason power rankings based on the information we have been able to gather to date.”

BYU football coach Kalani Sitake signs an autograph after the BYU alumni game at BYU in Provo on Friday, March 22, 2024. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Where does BYU football rank in ESPN’s post-spring SP+ rankings?

  • BYU ranks No. 67 nationally in the SP+ metrics with an overall minus-2.0 rating, a two-spot drop from the preseason SP+ rankings released in February.
  • That includes BYU rating No. 63 on offense, No. 84 on defense and No. 11 on special teams.
  • By comparison, the Cougars were No. 60 overall in last year’s post-spring ESPN SP+ rankings. BYU went 5-7 last season.
  • The Cougars rank 12th among the new-look Big 12 Conference in the SP+ rankings, just ahead of Colorado (No. 69) and Cincinnati (No. 70) and just behind Baylor (No. 61). Only two of BYU’s conference games this season — at Houston (No. 79) and vs. Arizona State (No. 88), both in late November — come against Big 12 teams below the Cougars in the SP+ rankings.
  • There are four Big 12 teams in the top 25 of the SP+ rankings: Kansas State (No. 17), Utah (No. 18), Oklahoma State (No. 20) and Arizona (No. 24). BYU plays all four this season, with only one road game at the Utes.
  • BYU is ranked more than 40 spots below one of its two FBS nonconference opponents — SMU comes in at No. 23 — while the other, Wyoming, is behind the Cougars, at No. 87.
  • The Big 12 is third among all FBS leagues in average SP+ ranking, behind only the SEC and Big Ten.
  • BYU ranks 55th nationally in returning production at 65%, per Connelly’s numbers. That includes ranking No. 52 on offense (66%) and No. 51 on defense (64%).

Where does Utah football rank in ESPN’s post-spring SP+ rankings?

  • Utah ranks No. 18 nationally in the SP+ metrics with an overall 16.1 rating, a one-spot drop from the preseason SP+ rankings released in February.
  • That includes Utah rating No. 39 on offense, No. 11 on defense and No. 34 on special teams.
  • By comparison, the Utes were No. 14 overall in last year’s post-spring ESPN SP+ rankings. Utah went 8-5 last season while dealing with a litany of injuries.
  • The Utes rank second among the new-look Big 12 Conference in the SP+ rankings in their first year in the league, just one spot behind Kansas State (No. 17) and ahead of Oklahoma State (No. 20) and Arizona (No. 24). Utah plays at Oklahoma State and home against Arizona in back-to-back weeks to start conference play, but avoids playing Kansas State.
  • Utah is ranked well ahead of its two FBS nonconference opponents — Baylor comes in at No. 61, while Utah State is No. 101. While both Utah and Baylor are now in the same conference, that will be a non-league game.
  • The Big 12 is third among all FBS leagues in average SP+ ranking, behind only the SEC and Big Ten.
  • Utah ranks 43rd nationally in returning production at 66%, per Connelly’s numbers. That includes ranking No. 61 on offense (63%) and No. 33 on defense (69%).

Big 12 teams in the post-spring SP+ rankings

17. Kansas State.

18. Utah.

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20. Oklahoma State.

24. Arizona.

30. Iowa State.

34. West Virginia.

36. TCU.

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37. Kansas.

42. Texas Tech.

48. UCF.

61. Baylor.

67. BYU.

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69. Colorado.

70. Cincinnati.

79. Houston.

88. Arizona State.

Utah State head coach Blake Anderson looks up a the videoboard late in second half of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl NCAA college football game against Georgia State, Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023, in Boise, Idaho. (AP Photo/Steve Conner) | Steve Conner, Associated Press

Where does Utah State football rank in ESPN’s post-spring SP+ rankings?

  • Utah State ranks No. 101 nationally in the SP+ metrics with an overall minus-11.0 rating, a six-spot drop from the preseason SP+ rankings released in February.
  • That includes Utah State rating No. 49 on offense, No. 132 on defense and No. 92 on special teams.
  • By comparison, the Aggies were No. 116 overall in last year’s post-spring ESPN SP+ rankings. Utah State went 6-7 last season with a bowl game loss.
  • The Aggies rank eighth among Mountain West teams in the SP+ rankings, just behind Colorado State (No. 98) and Hawaii (No. 100) and slightly ahead of San Diego State (No. 14).
  • Utah State’s conference opener will be against the highest-ranked MWC team in the SP+ rankings, No. 38 Boise State. The game is set for Oct. 5 in Boise.
  • Utah State will play three FBS nonconference opponents this year — both Utah (No. 18) and USC (No. 21) are in the SP+ top 25, while Temple is three from the bottom at No. 132.
  • The MWC is sixth among all FBS leagues in average SP+ ranking, behind fellow Group of 5 league the Sun Belt Conference and ahead of the American Athletic Conference.
  • Utah State ranks 86th nationally in returning production at 57%, per Connelly’s numbers. That includes ranking No. 43 on offense (68%) and No. 110 on defense (47%).
  • That’s a significant improvement over the post-spring SP+ returning production numbers last year, when Utah State ranked 127th nationally (41%).

Mountain West Conference teams in the post-spring SP+ rankings

38. Boise State.

57. Fresno State.

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71. UNLV.

87. Wyoming.

92. Air Force.

98. Colorado State.

100. Hawaii.

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101. Utah State.

104. San Diego State.

112. San Jose State.

121. Nevada.

131. New Mexico.

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Former North American leaders descend on SLC for international trade conference

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Former North American leaders descend on SLC for international trade conference


Utah’s rising prominence as a player in the global business landscape was the focus of a Thursday conference in Salt Lake City that included an impressive roster of domestic and international leaders including former President George W. Bush, former Mexican President Vicente Fox and past Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Natalie Gochnour, associate dean for the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business and director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, told attendees of the Crossroads of the World Summit at downtown’s Grand America hotel that Utah had already established itself as the crossroads of the West and was building an argument for a more ascendant position.

“What I do know is we’re the undisputed crossroads of the West and that’s the seed corn for being the crossroads of the world,” Gochnour said.

Gochnour shared data that reflects Utah’s outsize performance when it comes to global trade, including a comparison of the state’s rankings of 30th in the country in terms of population, 29th largest economy but 16th on a basis of per capita export values.

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Gochnour also pointed out that, among western states, Utah has the third highest per capita export ranking, even beating out economic powerhouse California.

“It’s a pretty big punch,” Gochnour said.

While Bush was among the marquee speakers at Thursday’s event, the former president’s presentation was closed to media.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox quipped about his role as the state’s CBO — Chief Bragging Officer — and shared an anecdote from a recent trip to Vancouver, B.C., where he attended a TED conference.

Cox said he shared a dinner table with a well-known hedge fund billionaire, who he declined to identify, who said Utah’s most powerful built-in asset was the shared characteristics of its residents as smart, hard-working people who prioritize their families.

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“Those are Utah values and they used to be American values,” Cox said. “Utah is what America used to be and, I hope, what it can be again.

“I can say those things (about Utah) but to hear it from someone else … I thought a lot about that conversation.”

This story will be updated.

From left, former Mexican President Vicente Fox and former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper speak with Mark Garfield at the Crossroads of the World International Trade Summit at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 23, 2024. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News



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