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Utah’s Dixie fights to save a vital resource: clean air

Environment » Various interests come together around quality of life, quality of air.

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Monitoring the air » St. George City is also determined to monitor air quality.

"There’s an old saying: if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it," said Bill Swensen, who oversees the city’s clean air efforts.

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This week he picked up an air-pollution monitor, the first owned by the city.

Officials hope their budget will allow a similar $30,000 purchase next year.

St. George has not been not alone in its efforts. Zion National Park has operated monitors for years. And state air regulators are in their second year of studying where to place the devices to get the clearest picture of the problem.

From the state’s standpoint, summertime ozone pollution has been the most pressing concern, partly because the EPA is expected to toughen its ozone standard sometime soon and partly because measurements show the pollutant is close to violating current standards. This is the second year in a row the state air-quality division will set up a network of monitors to help drill down on solutions.

Some of the clues the air scientists have picked up so far have worrisome implications, said Dave McNeill of the state’s air-quality office.

For instance, past monitoring has shown air currents are carrying lots of pollution into Washington County from Las Vegas, the West Coast and probably China. But the coastal shipping ports and Nevada’s coal-fired power plants are beyond the reach of Utah regulators trying to solve Washington County’s pollution problems.

"We’re trying to understand what’s going on," he said. "We’re trying to understand while we have a chance to."

Mike Small, president of the advocacy group Citizens for Dixie’s Future, has been part of the drive for common-sense air-quality protections.

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Overall, he gives the city good marks for trying to head off problems before they get unwieldy. But he notes pollution controls haven’t been in full effect during a construction boom time. Plus, pollution drifting from outside Utah’s borders is a worry.

"I don’t know anyone here who wants the quality of life of Vegas," he said. "But if we keep growing like we have been, we could have it."

fahys@sltrib.comTwitter: @judyfutah

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