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Millcreek Journal

City’s emergency operations plan outlines environmental hazards exacerbated by climate change

Aug 03, 2022 08:09PM ● By Sara Milano

By Sara Milano | [email protected]

Millcreek’s emergency manager Andrew Clark presented council members with a revised Emergency Operations Plan at the June 27 meeting of the Millcreek City Council. Council members voted unanimously to adopt the new Emergency Operations Plan (EOP), which outlines disaster policies and procedures for the city of Millcreek. The aim of the EOP, according to Clark, is to “provide guidelines for planning, coordinating, and managing the overall response and recovery of Millcreek before, during and after major disasters or emergency events.”

The plan recognizes Millcreek’s potential to be impacted by a variety of hazards, including natural, technological or manmade ones which may lead to an emergency. The EOP outlines emergency response policies, makes operational assumptions about response, and assesses the risk of different potential threats to the area.

The threats assessed by the EOP are divided into three categories and are scored for both their probability of occurrence and the severity of their impact. These scores are then multiplied to identify the most severe and probable threats to the community. The top five public safety threats named in the EOP are earthquakes, severe winter weather, severe weather, pandemic and wildfires. 

All of the potential threats are outlined in the third part of the EOP called the hazard annexes. The earthquake annex specifically explains how Salt Lake County’s proximity to the Wasatch Fault makes it susceptible to earthquakes of magnitudes up to 7.5. Utah experiences hundreds of small earthquakes every year, but only six of those on average have a magnitude greater than 3.0. Moderate earthquakes, such as those between 5.5 and 6.5 on the Richter scale, occur about every 10 years with large earthquakes (magnitude 6.5-7.5) occurring every 50 years. However, climate scientists have identified the correlation between rising global temperatures and increased seismic activity, meaning there may be more frequent and severe earthquakes for Utah residents in the future. Many Utahns will remember as recently as March 2020 when the state suffered an earthquake with a 5.7 magnitude, its strongest experienced since 1992.

The updated EOP designates several communities at the western boundary of the Wasatch Front as a wildland urban interface (WUI), where “wildfires…have the potential to spread to the surrounding neighborhood, especially during the dry season.” Millcreek in particular is considered part of a WUI and is an area of concern for wildfires due to its proximity to conservation land. The plan recognizes that there are currently limited water resources to fight wildfires with and that “climate change will likely increase the potentiality of a serious conflagration in Millcreek.”

Notably absent from the plan’s hazard annex is any mention of air quality. The American Lung Association’s 2022 State of the Air report ranked Salt Lake City’s ozone as the 10th-most polluted of all U.S. cities. Poor air quality can contribute to several adverse health outcomes for people who reside in polluted areas. Among these are asthma, lung cancer, heart attack, stroke, metabolic disorders and premature death.

While pollution may not appear to be as pressing an emergency as earthquakes or wildfires, the ever-shrinking Great Salt Lake threatens the already-poor air quality of the region and presents a danger to public health and safety if water levels continue to decline. The sediment in the lake bed contains dangerous levels of arsenic, a highly toxic element that is being exposed by the reduction in water levels. Once exposed, these particles are swept up by the wind and become airborne, threatening the health of 80% of Utah’s residents who live along the Wasatch Front.

Lawmakers and environmentalists have begun exploring several solutions to help offset shrinking water levels in the Great Salt Lake. Ideas range from increasing per-gallon water prices (so that consumption decreases and more water reaches the lake) to a pipeline that diverts water from the Pacific Ocean. Regardless of which remedy prevails, solutions to the problem will be slow to come to fruition and costly for the state to execute. Further, like other environmental hazards, the Great Salt Lake’s declining levels will also be exacerbated by climate change.

Millcreek residents who are concerned about toxic pollution can take action by decreasing their personal water consumption, avoiding outdoor exercise when air quality is poor, and contacting their government officials about making air quality a legislative priority.