As 2015 drew to a close, the Utah Division of Water Quality (DWQ) collected fines from four errant Utah municipalities: Salt Lake City, Springville, Lehi and Murray.
In a pattern of neglect that is surprisingly commonplace, the past year and a half has proven productive when it comes to polluting Utah waterways. In June of 2014 a sewage leaked wastewater into a Pond situated on Nibley golf course which may link up to the Jordan River. In Nov. 2014, Springville dumped 20,000 gallons of sewage into Spring Creek. In July of last year, two of these wretched incidents occurred, starting when a bunch of muddy water in Springville was flushed into Dry Creek before the sediment could be removed. And finally, in Murray on July 28, a mechanical error resulted in 600 gallons of raw wastewater flowing into a storm drain that feeds the Jordan River.
Aside from the nauseating thought of raw sewage gushing through our state’s rivers, the most disturbing thing about these events is the criminally small fines these municipalities are being given as a consequence. In the case of Salt Lake City, the fine was as low as $100. Even the fine issued to Springville for the Spring Creek incident at $5,567 is pitifully small in comparison with the city’s ability to pay.
To be clear, I’m not saying we should bankrupt these municipalities. After all, this is taxpayer money we’re talking about. But when the fine associated with an offense as serious as poisoning the water supply is a drop in the bucket compared to the offender’s multi-billion-dollar GMP there is something seriously amiss.
The government has certain responsibilities. Infrastructure is a big one. Every year we pay the government our hard-earned money in the form of taxes. Though frustrating, taxes are a very necessary part of modern life. Ostensibly, it’s how the government is able to serve its people. But when the money is used irresponsibly and the public works department Is so understaffed that one unattended glitch can send human waste into the river, they’ve shirked that responsibility.
At this point, the DWQ seems content to leave these city governments with a simple slap on the wrist and a fine on par with what you or I would have to pay for dumping trash on the side of the road. Sewage leaks are a much bigger deal. If you’ve ever had a septic tank break or back up, you know that the effects can be devastating to your health and property. Now picture that on a much larger scale, where you and your neighbors aren’t the only ones effected.
In a situation like this, one can’t help but wonder how a government entity—something that should have more accountability than a private citizen—would be held to a higher standard when it creates a multi-city problem that can’t be fixed by simply picking up litter. Yet Walt Baker, the director of DWQ, still told the Salt Lake Tribune that Salt Lake City does “a great job with the maintenance” of their wastewater system, despite the fact that they leaked unholy amounts of human effluvia into the public waterways.
As citizens, we ought to demand more than this from our government. When a government sets the rules and then refuses to play by them and fulfill their end of the deal, they are less than useless.