Commentary: What can Utah do about its air quality?

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mount Timpanogos stands higher than the rest as thick smoke envelops the mountains and Utah county with poor air quality as crews continue to battle the Coal Hollow fire near Highway 6 on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018.

After a brutal summer of smoke and poor air quality, it is literally time to take a deep breath. Most of us were shocked this summer when we were unable to see our nearby mountains in the middle of the day.

As winter approaches, we must ask what steps have we taken to improve air quality since last winter? Then, what are we going to do next year to improve from this summer?

As almost half of our air pollution comes from vehicle emissions, and much of the traffic volume is commuters, do we have a plan that will get more commuters riding public transportation this winter — especially on bad-air days? Does UTA plan to coordinate with air quality models to expand bus, TRAX and FrontRunner services to commuters who would otherwise be sitting behind the steering wheel? I believe that many of us would support steeply discounted or free fare for those who will ride on bad-air days.

Thousands of cars line up in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons on busy weekends and powder days. The “red snake” of tail lights happens every winter. But is there a plan to increase shuttle and bus services over those busy weekends and great powder days? Additional shuttles and buses are not needed every day, just on peak days. We should reach out to businesses and churches to rent their empty parking lots to allow skiers a place to park as they hop on the shuttles. It’s time that UTA plan for additional bus drivers to be on call when demand is high.

It is time we look more closely at the Great Salt Lake’s impact on air quality. More water in the Great Salt Lake covers more lake bed and shores, which results in less dust and particles from blowing in our air. As citizens, what steps are we taking to direct as much water as possible to the Great Salt Lake

As outdoor water use represents the lion’s share of residential and industrial water use, we must start assessing our surroundings. Can our outdoor areas be planted with water-wise plants and irrigated via a drip system? Efficient drip systems and proper plants can reduce outside consumption by 80 percent or more. These simple changes, multiplied by the number of residents in the valley, could allow much more water to flow directly to the Great Salt Lake.

After this summer we cannot have an air quality conversation without talking fire. Although we can do little to prevent lightning-caused fires, we can take steps to mitigate the duration and severity of fires that start in our county and state. We need to look at our local canyons and terrain and ensure smart fire fighting and mitigation plans are in place. A quick-spreading fire in our Wasatch Canyons could have devastating consequences to our air quality and our watershed, and the lingering smoke will hover in the valley long after the fire is out.

The U.S. Forest Service, counties, cities and state need to better coordinate their efforts. Our county resource management plans need to include best management practices and address fire and the threat of fire more seriously.

Let us make sure that another season does not go by without making substantial improvements. Let us ensure we are using the best data and the best practices. Each of us can do a part. It can start simply by combining your car trips, which reduces cold starts of your engine and directly reduces air pollution.

Nearly everyone I speak with knows we have an air quality problem and most people seem willing to do something to help. Working together we can all make a difference.

Scott Rosenbush, Salt Lake City, is a candidate for the Utah House, District 24.