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Air Quality Priorities

Air Quality Priorities

Air quality is a high priority for La Plata County, and an issue that affects each and every individual living in or visiting our community. The County’s Strategic Plan reflects our dedication to the conservation and enhancement of healthy natural environments.  We take seriously our responsibility to protect the public health and the cleanliness of the air we breathe.   At the same time, it is our duty to protect and enhance the economic livelihood of our citizens. It is essential that we are deliberate in our approaches to these issues so that we may strike an appropriate balance.

La Plata County also recognizes that air quality changes, and as new studies and data are available, priorities may be modified.  This document will be revised regularly to incorporate our changing needs.

Although air quality affects us on a local level, jurisdiction on these matters is primarily held by state, tribal and federal entities.  Lead regulatory agencies for air quality in our area include the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA Region 8), the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), and the Southern Ute Indian/State of Colorado Environmental Commission (the SUIT/CO Commission).

As a subdivision of the State of Colorado, La Plata County relies upon the designated state agency in charge of air quality, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Air Pollution Control Division (CDPHE APCD) for leadership on matters of air quality.  La Plata County also recognizes the roles of the EPA and the SUIT/CO Commission as key agencies in air quality regulations and improvements in our area.

La Plata County sets its air quality priorities as follows:

  1. Coordination with federal, state, tribal nation, and municipal monitoring, mitigation, and remediation efforts
  2. Emissions Reduction Efforts
  3. Ozone and avoidance of a federal nonattainment designation
  4. Mercury deposition monitoring and remediation
  5. Visibility monitoring and remediation

1.  Coordination

La Plata County is fortunate to have many interested and active stakeholders in the air quality issues facing our region and we appreciate the efforts that are being made in this arena.  There are many studies being undertaken and much air monitoring taking place [1]

The Four Corners Air Quality Task Force (4CAQTF), initiated by the states of Colorado and New Mexico; is an active, productive, and engaging forum for air quality issues affecting the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona; and the tribal nations in the region.  This Task Force produced a comprehensive report in November 2007, and continues progressing on recommendations suggested in the report.  La Plata County applauds the efforts of the 4CAQTF in creating a medium for sharing and collaboration within the Four Corners region.  We encourage the 4CAQTF and each respective entity to continue coordinating efforts to maximize resources and move the entire region toward common air quality goals. 

In order to secure a healthy physical environment for its citizens, the County will continue its efforts to ensure that all air quality agencies involved in the region have proper programs in place and are carrying them out appropriately.  The nature of air quality regulation on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation is unique and requires close collaboration between the County, CDPHE, the Southern Ute Tribe and the SUIT/CO Commission.  La Plata County supports the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s efforts to ensure appropriate and effective air quality management for sources on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.  Because the programs adopted by the SUIT/CO Commission will directly affect owners of and businesses located on fee lands within the exterior boundaries of the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, La Plata County shall continue its efforts of encouraging an effective, transparent and fair process for the administration of Reservation air quality programs.

La Plata County encourages any entity developing air quality projects to coordinate with the respective lead agency: the EPA, SUIT/CO Commission, or CDPHE APCD.  Any entity seeking information on air quality in La Plata County is encouraged to read the 4CAQTF report, and attend their meetings. 

[1] For a list of current air quality projects, visit:  http://www.nmenv.state.nm.us/aqb/4C/Documents/FourCornersStudies_082008.pdf

2.  Emissions Reduction Efforts

La Plata County Government is committed to doing its part in decreasing its own contributions to emissions, and providing leadership by example in the development of the overall vision of a sustainable, environmentally responsible community.

After signing on to the Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement in November 2006, La Plata County created an Energy Management and Resource Conservation Team to focus attention on and advance sustainability goals.  La Plata County created a Sustainability Office in 2008 to provide staff support and work closely with all County departments and our Energy Management and Resource Conservation Team.  The County undertook an in-depth energy audit of all county offices and facilities in an effort to identify opportunities to reduce energy consumption, and thereby our carbon footprint. 

La Plata County is currently implementing recommendations from that study to reduce energy consumption, and thereby reduce emissions from the power plants which produce that electricity.  Projects in 2008 include installing solar-thermal water heating at the La Plata County jail, retrofitting lighting in a number of facilities, replacing a boiler at the Old Main Post Office, and installing vending misers for a total of $540,000 of improvements.  In 2009, an additional $2.4 million will be spent for such projects as installing a solar-thermal water heating system in the County Courthouse, upgrading of a heating and cooling system including demand-based ventilation, installing energy management controls, and utilizing an energy information network to control energy consumption from computers.  The improvements will continue to be phased in as grants and funding become available.  La Plata County looks forward to not only the reduction of emissions from energy savings, but also to the cost savings on operating expenses that these improvements will realize. 

The County is seeking funding through a New Energy Community grant in partnership with Ignacio, Bayfield, and Durango.  The grant application contains $2 million in energy saving projects for our communities with a focus on greening public facilities, renewable energy demonstration projects, LED communities, and a small business and home retrofit program. 

Along with many governmental, community, and private industry partners, La Plata County was an integral part of a diverse community team that formed the Four Corners Office for Resource Efficiency (4CORE).  This entity provides the opportunity to collaborate to create a regional climate action plan, and aims to encourage the community to integrate resource conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy into everyday life. The climate action plan will address contributions of emissions from all sources: individual, business and industrial.  It will recommend policies and programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Through all of these efforts, La Plata County seeks to improve local air quality by taking responsibility for and reducing its own energy consumption.  By our own example, and by supporting progressive programs, we wish to encourage and facilitate other individuals and local businesses to institute similar practices. 

3.  Ozone and Nonattainment Designation

The 4CAQTF, the CDPHE APCD, and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe Air Quality Program have been instrumental in providing citizens and La Plata County information regarding air quality in our area.  Ozone in the Four Corners Area is currently being monitored by nine monitoring sites, five in Colorado and four in New Mexico.  Three of these nine sites are in La Plata County.  The two sites in Bondad and Ignacio are operated by the Southern Ute Indian Tribe Air Quality Program.  The third site is near Bayfield and is operated by the United States Forest Service (USFS).  All nine of these sites are compliant with EPA’s 40 C.F.R. 58 Clean Air Act standards, and therefore provide the data through which the EPA bases its formal designations of “attainment” and “non-attainment.”  

The Clean Air Act and Amendments of 1990 define a "nonattainment area" as a locality where air pollution levels persistently exceed National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) or that contributes to ambient air quality in a nearby area that fails to meet standards. Designating an area as nonattainment is a formal rulemaking process, and EPA normally takes this action only after air quality standards have been exceeded for several consecutive years. Nonattainment areas are given a classification based on the severity of the violation and the type of air quality standard they exceed.  EPA designations of nonattainment areas are based on violations of NAAQS for carbon monoxide, lead, ozone (8-hour), particulate matter (PM-10 and PM2.5), and sulfur dioxide.

All monitors in La Plata County show compliance with the EPA standards, and therefore in attainment, for all above mentioned standards, including ozone.  New Mexico’s monitor at Navajo Lake shows levels approaching “nonattainment,” and this situation is being observed closely by both New Mexico’s Environment Department and CDPHE APCD.  La Plata County shall continue its efforts of encouraging collaboration between CDPHE APCD and the State of New Mexico and shall participate in discussions about development of mitigation options.

La Plata County is supportive of appropriate continued monitoring and data analysis.  We will continue to partner with the CDPHE APCD with regards to monitoring, interpreting data, and recommendations for future monitor installations which follow EPA guidelines including 40 C.F.R. 50, 40 C.F.R. 53, and 40 C.F.R. 58.  The County will continue its efforts to understand ozone control issues and participate in the choices that will be necessary to protect this type of air quality.

The Desert Rock coal-fired power plant proposed for the Navajo Indian Reservation in northwestern New Mexico could have substantial impacts upon ozone levels in the atmosphere over La Plata County.  On July 16, 2008, the Board of County Commissioners alerted the EPA of the County’s significant concern that the Desert Rock Facility will cause or contribute to ozone concentrations.  The County encouraged and will continue to encourage the EPA to examine these effects immediately and in detail.  The County will also continue to seek assurances that the proposed Desert Rock Facility does not cause or contribute to a violation of the ozone standards in our region.

4.  Mercury

La Plata County is concerned with the levels of mercury reported in area lakes, soil and air.  Precipitation samplers in the county have detected very high concentrations of mercury.  The CDPHE tested levels of mercury found in fish in county reservoirs and lakes.  These tests resulted in the issuance of fish consumption advisories.

The 4CAQTF has made recommendations, and is considering various other strategies, regarding mercury monitoring and mitigation options.  One recommendation being implemented by the Bureau of Land Management is the placement of a long-term Mercury Deposition Network (MDN) wet-deposition monitor near Molas Pass, which will be part of the National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP).  This data will represent high-elevation, wet sampling, to compliment the lower-elevation, dry sampling taking place at Mesa Verde National Park.  Additionally, the State of New Mexico will be adding a wet/dry MDN sampler at Navajo Lake and will conduct “fingerprinting” at that site to determine the origination of deposited mercury.  Determining the origin of the mercury is of critical importance and therefore La Plata County is supportive of these research programs and will review study findings when they become available to determine next steps in conjunction with 4CAQTF and CDPHE APCD.

As with ozone, La Plata County is concerned that the Desert Rock Facility may exacerbate the levels of mercury in our region.  On July 10, 2007 the Board of County Commissioners adopted Resolution No. 2007-34 opposing the proposed facility. The County shall continue its efforts of encouraging the EPA to examine the health and environmental concerns presented by the high levels of mercury in our region and the impact that the Desert Rock Facility may have on these levels.

5.  Visibility

Our regional economy thrives on the quality of our natural and historical resources.  The public’s ability to enjoy these resources may be significantly diminished by the presence of haze.  As such, the visibility monitoring currently occurring at the Shamrock site by the USFS is of great value to our region.  This monitoring is part of an EPA program to improve visibility in the Nation’s national parks and wilderness areas, also known as federal Class 1 areas.  La Plata County supports this ongoing project. 

Additionally a USFS visibility monitoring site is located in the Weminuche Wilderness near Durango Mountain Resort.  This site houses a particulate monitor that measures PM 10 and PM 2.5 particles.  Samples are pulled every three days, and analyzed to determine quantities of sulfates, nitrates, soil, elemental carbon and organics.  The data from this monitor is available through the Interagency Monitoring of Protected Visual Environments (IMPROVE) program at website WEMI.  This visibility site is employed in order to:

(1) Establish current visibility and aerosol conditions in the Weminuche class I areas;

(2) Identify chemical species and emission sources responsible for existing man-made visibility impairment;

(3) Document long-term trends for assessing progress towards the national visibility goal;

(4) Provide regional haze monitoring in this visibility-protected federal class I area in accordance with the enactment of the Regional Haze Rule.

Suggested Resources

  1. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Air Pollution Control Division presentation to the La Plata County Board of County Commissioners, July 27, 2008. 
  2. Four Corners Air Quality Task Force Report of Mitigation Options of November, 2007 and ongoing information by the Four Corners Air Quality Task Force.  http://www.nmenv.state.nm.us/aqb/4C/
  3. The Southern Ute Indian Tribe/State of Colorado Environmental Commission ongoing meetings.

San Juan Public Lands ozone monitor at Shamrock, north of Bayfield has data available online within 24 hours of the reading.  It provides 8 hour averages, minimum/maximum/average, as well as other useful data.  www.fsvisimages.com/Sham1/Sham1.html#

[1] For a list of current air quality projects, visit:  http://www.nmenv.state.nm.us/aqb/4C/Documents/FourCornersStudies_082008.pdf

Photo La Plata County scenery