Startup Uses Drone for Cleaning Water, Collecting Data
Utah is growing. Our state is home to the “Mighty Five” national parks, and we are internationally recognized for our hiking, biking, skiing, and many other outdoor opportunities. Utahns enjoy a resilient and diverse economy supported by infrastructure, from roads and trails to water treatment plants and airports, which represents a commitment going back to the state’s pioneer roots. If you live in Utah, you know this is a special place. While we should celebrate the success of our rapidly developing Wasatch Front, we Utahns recognize the importance of our rural communities to the continued success and prosperity of our great state. These rural communities need access to reliable clean water, functional roads, transit, flood control, and other necessities of life. Meanwhile, the more densely populated Wasatch Front is concerned about planning for the future and keeping Utah an affordable, accessible, and beautiful place to live.
The Utah Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has produced this Infrastructure Report card for the benefit of all Utahns. You are our families, our neighbors, our friends, and our fellow citizens, and we view the responsibility of being good stewards of our state’s infrastructure as a calling rather than just an occupation. We hope that you will take a moment to read our infrastructure assessments, reflect on the role that infrastructure plays in your daily life, and consider contacting your Representatives as well on issues that matter to you, while also actively participating in public forums to continue to make infrastructure matter in Utah. There is no doubt that your input is critical to developing a full understanding of community needs and prioritizing long-term investment and planning in infrastructure. When it comes to planning for our future, your voice matters.
Aviation is critical to the Utah economy because well-maintained public use facilities are important for attracting and supporting businesses. Utah’s aviation infrastructure includes 36 public-use airports serving both commercial and general aviation needs with runway surfaces characterized in very good condition. The busiest airport in Utah is the Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) that is responsible for 98% of enplanements in the state. In recent years, SLC has invested nearly $4 billion in passenger capacity and cargo volume. However, it is anticipated that there will be a funding gap in the coming years. Furthermore, as airspace becomes Increasingly congested leading to flight delays, new technologies, process improvements, and operational efficiencies are coming online to reduce arrival capacity constraints.
Highway bridges are a critical component to Utah’s surface transportation systems. Bridges in poor condition can significantly impact traffic flow, economic development, and emergency services along a roadway corridor. Over the past five years, Utah has seen more than a 40% decrease in structurally deficient bridges, going from 2.9% in 2015 to 1.7% in 2020 resulting in the state’s bridge inventory being ranked as fourth in the nation for the lowest percentage of structurally deficient bridges. This success is due, in part, to the Utah Department of Transportation’s significant increase in funding, up from $26.5 million in 2016 to $48 million annually from 2018 to 2020. However, almost 1 in 3 Utah bridges are older than their intended 50-year design life. As the average age of the bridges in the state increases, so must the commitment to preservation, rehabilitation, and replacement of deteriorated structures. Utah has demonstrated national leadership by expanding bridge capacity by 30-40 bridges each year to accommodate population growth and by advancing the use of innovative materials like lightweight Cellular Concrete in new infrastructure.
Canals have served a critical role in Utah’s communities with an estimated 5,300 to 8,300 mils across the state largely consisting of earthen embankments and cut ditches. Many in operation today were constructed over 100 years ago, representing engineering marvels that contribute to the growth and prosperity of Utah. However, the canal system was not designed or constructed to modern standards, so poor performance or failures that once resulted in flooded fields now threaten cities, public infrastructure, and developments that have encroached upon the canals. While state leadership initiated and funded an inventory of Utah’s canals, the condition or risk of over 1,600 entities remains largely unknown, namely risk from extreme weather or events. Furthermore, nearly all canals are owned and maintained by local entities that operate with diminishing funds and have limited access to increasingly competitive state-level resources.
There are more than 900 dams in the State of Utah, 860 of which are in the National Inventory of Dams. Ninety-nine percent of dams in the state have an emergency action plan, which is much higher than the national average. However, downstream development is increasing, meaning many dams that were initially constructed using less stringent design criteria are now upstream from population centers. Additionally, there are seismic risks associated with dams near major population centers. Looking ahead, dams become even more critical to preserving Utah’s quality of life and public health. The western region of the U.S. continues to receive pressure to provide stable water resources amidst challenges associated with dramatic growth, drought and climate change. Neighboring states are undertaking ambitious and expansive efforts to meet future water demand through a renaissance in dam construction.
Most of Utah’s growing population is served by drinking water networks that operate under multiple threats. With a population that is projected to reach 5 million people by 2050, Utah not only faces water supply challenges, but significant funding needs, $11 billion over the next 20 years, and seismic concerns. However, to provide guidance to the public water systems on monitoring critical drinking water assets and networks, the Utah Legislature now requ1res that the state’s Conservancy Districts develop and maintain System Asset Management Programs (SAMPs). Aside from streamlining asset management, these plans also improve the resilience of the Utah’s drinking water infrastructure because some areas have developed seismic event contingency plans that include processes for responding, repairing, and restoring system functionality as expeditiously as reasonably possible. Earthquakes are the third major threat to Utah’s water supply networks. A Mag-7 earthquake would definitely cripple Utah’s major water supply systems by damaging the transmission lines from the water sources that cross the Wasatch Fault to bring water from the mountains to the densely populated valleys. Through efforts initiated by the Utah Division of Water Resources (DWRe) and other state, regional, and local agencies. Residential per capita water use has decreased by about 20% the past two decades. Utah’s Prepare 60 drinking water plan has laid out a well-supported path for optimization of water sources and conservation.
Hazardous wastes, such as byproducts of mining and manufacturing, present complex management and potential cleanup challenges to communities throughout Utah. Furthermore, electronic wastes containing lead and other heavy metals represent a growing concern when improperly disposed of in landfills. Ongoing cleanup concerns and no clear policy on banning e-waste from landfills are holding Utah back. However. Utah has a unique opportunity to leverage strong partnerships between state agencies and private industry to accomplish important goals in the management of hazardous waste, resource recovery and reuse, and land cleanup and redevelopment. Current public-private partnerships throughout the State are making a sustainable manufacturing industry and a circular economy part of a promising future for Utahans. One such project investigating a method of recovering precious metals, located in Utah and funded by the REMADE Institute could provide the economic incentive to dramatically increase e-waste recycling by as much as 20%. Coordinated policy support for similar proven initiatives could lower waste management costs, reduce pollution from hazardous and e-wastes, create jobs, and immediately raise Utah’s Hazardous Waste infrastructure grade.
Utah’s geography rapidly transitions from high elevation, mountainous terrain, to low-lowing basins or lakes, which puts communities in the path of potential flooding. Levees are instrumental to Utah’s flood control system. There are between 102 and 112 miles of levees statewide with approximately 252 individual segments averaging nearly 60 years old. It is estimated that over 125,000 residents are protected by the state’s levee infrastructure and the total risk to property, should a failure occur, exceeds $10 billion. While little to no construction documentation or condition data re available for existing levees, public safety information regarding floods in Utah includes 23 recorded injuries and 30 recorded deaths since 2000, with 17 flood-related deaths in 2017 alone. Given Utah’s flood-prone areas and community encroachment on levees, the public safety consequences or costs of failure have and will continue to increase over time. However, in much of the state, limited to no planning exists for emergencies, such as levee breaches. Changes to federal flood mapping, which will increase insurance costs, m ay mean that many owners cannot afford coverage and would therefore not be eligible for federal recovery funding if flooding occurs. With absent available state and federal funding, local municipalities have taken action to address changes in flood mapping and levee deficiencies. These projects have included levee improvements in Cache, Weber, Iron, and Salt Lake Counties.
Utah’s roadway network is more than 49,000 miles, 73% of which is owned by localities and 25% owned by the state. The remaining 2% of roadway mileage is part of the Interstate Highway System. Utah has long been considered the crossroads of the West and decisionmakers have implemented smart policy and invested in the network to keep up that reputation. To serve extensive freight traffic from regional ports, funding for roadways increased from $1.2 billion in 2017 to $1.7 billion in 2020 and major capacity investments continue. Utah also embraces innovation and asserts fiscal leadership, which is apparent in the 2020 Road Usage Charge for electric and hybrid vehicle owners and the 2021 gas tax increase from $0.311 to $0.014 per gallon. Finally, in recent years, the state has streamlined the Transportation Asset Management Plans and project risk analysis to preserve roadway infrastructure, increase adaptability amid extreme events, and maintain roadway functionality after extreme events occur.
Solid waste management is essential to Utah’s public and environmental health is overseen by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Since 2013, the number of solid waste landfills has increased from 107 to 102. To date, only 5% of the state’s total landfill area has been used. While the system’s capacity is is increasing, the current condition of the state’s solid waste sector is somewhat unknown, as Utah’s Solid Waste Master Plan has not been update din 15 years. Meanwhile, solid waste fees, which help landfill owners operate and maintain their infrastructure, generally range from $5 to $15 for a standard pick-up truck or trailer. While capacity and economic resources are sufficient for now, recycling remains an area of potential improvement. Less than 2% of municipal solid waste is recycled statewide, compared with the national average of approximately 35% annually. Educational initiatives and expanded access efforts are currently underway.
Stormwater systems protect urban and rural communities from flooding. Stormwater quality regulations, through the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (NPDES MS4) program have created a system a system of best management practices, including bioswales, retention basins, wetlands, and other infrastructure to treat stormwater quality. In Utah, storm drain systems are owned and operated by the sate, private, and municipal agencies and include between 5,000 to 10,000 miles of channels, drainpipes, and culverts along with detention systems. There are currently 95 MS4 permit holders within the state. With aging systems, some implemented in the early 1900s, it is important to perform maintenance and repair to ensure appropriate operation; however, not all of the state’s stormwater systems have and exercise asset management. Dependent on stormwater utility fees and limited state-level funding and financing resources, ongoing upkeep to avoid system failures and to comply with new stormwater standards may become more challenging. However, addressing the increasingly stringent standards will likely fall onto stormwater system owners, as the state only has $1 million to contribute to innovative stormwater projects.
Over the past 30 years, transit networks in Utah have significantly improved. Currently, there are over 100 miles of fixed guideway services and over 48 million annual riders, up an additional 2 million in the last five years,. Since 2015, the transit system has seen expanded services, including a connection between two major universities. While these transit improvements have made the system more convenient and user friendly, there are still pressing needs for system enhancement, expansion, and financial stabilization. Sales taxes from local service districts support 65% of the transit system’s funding, with the remainder coming from federal sources. Overall, many of Utah’s urban residents are experiencing affordable types and sufficient levels of transit service that have not been experienced in their lifetimes, particularly in cities of the Wasatch Front. In contrast, rural areas face more challenges with public transit due to their population density, location, and lack of available funding.
Wastewater infrastructure is a term used to describe the entire wastewater treatment system. In general, it includes the system of pipes and pumps that collects used water and carries it to a treatment facility, where a combination of physical, chemical, and biological processes clean the wastewater treatment plants in Utah are meeting baseline technology limits, but new nutrient regulations are requiring older facilities to implement costly upgrades. Additionally, a growing number are at risk of losing installed treatment capacity as their infrastructure ages beyond its expected 50-year useful and efficient operating life. In addition, there is an ongoing deterioration of sewage collection systems that are 65-75 years old and beyond their expected useful life. Many districts and cities in Utah are currently upgrading their water reclamation facilities and collection systems. However, numerous wastewater agencies are struggling to keep up with repair and replacement of facilities, along with addressing ever more stringent regulations and accelerating population growth. For these facilities, aging infrastructure and increasing maintenance needs may result in declining water quality.
A: EXCEPTIONAL, B: GOOD, C: MEDIOCRE, D: POOR, F: FAILING
Each category was evaluated on the basis of capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience, and innovation
9 major airports
3,063 bridges, 2.2% of which were structurally deficient in 2019
266 high hazard dams
$4.4 billion total drinking water need over 20 years
346 outages between 2008 and 2017
25 Superfund sites
73 miles of levees protect 78,910 residents.
$219,440,104 in deferred park maintenance
1,386 miles of rail across the state
22% of roads are in poor condition. Each motorist pays $709 per year in costs due to driving on roads in need of repair
$496 million gap in estimated school capital expenditures.
2,927,521 tons of municipal solid waste
$6.03 average monthly fee
48.5 million passenger trips in 2018
$842 million in wastewater needs
Smart investment will only be possible with strong leadership, decisive action, and a clear vision for our nation’s infrastructure.
If the United States is serious about achieving an infrastructure system fit for the future some specific steps must be taken, beginning with increased, long-term, consistent investment.
We must utilize new approaches, materials, and technologies to ensure our infrastructure can withstand or quickly recover from natural or man-made hazards.
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