A vast, geographically diverse state, Utah encompasses an area just under 85,000 square miles. An estimated 80-85% of the population lives along a 120-mile-long strip abutting the Wasatch Mountains. The remainder of the population – just under one million – is spread out statewide in rural areas. From its Salt Lake City headquarters, Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) engineers and scientists manage the air, land, and water requirements established by state and federal statute. The challenge is made easier through a formalized partnership with Utah’s 13 local health departments (LHDs). The LHDs are another set of hands to assist with processes such as surveying Drinking Water systems and providing timely on-the-ground responses and/or another set of eyes when needed. They also add a local perspective to issues under investigation.
For more than 20 years, DEQ has contracted with each LHD to provide services, attended regular meetings of the Local Health Officers and Environmental Directors, and hosted an annual partnership meeting to discuss common issues and legislative strategy. As many partnerships do at times, relationships sometimes wear thin and need to be reinvented. Three years ago, when it became apparent that more was needed, a governance process was proposed by the LHDs and DEQ and adopted by statute.
The Governance Committee has been meeting monthly since 2015. The six-member committee includes the DEQ Executive and one Deputy Director, a rotating Division Director, and three representatives of LHDs appointed by the local health departments in the state. In addition, there are three ex officio members including the Conference of Local Environmental Health Administrators (CLEHA) President, the Utah Association of Local Health Departments (UALHD) Executive Director, and DEQ’s Local Health Liaison.
The committee is empowered to coordinate the implementation and maximize the effectiveness of environmental -quality programs by reviewing the allocation of resources, coordinating grant applications, and evaluating DEQ policies that affect local health departments.
Results to Date:
In the two years it has been meeting, the Governance Committee has developed a heightened understanding of the challenges and limitations each member faces. Under the committee’s direction, there has been an increase in participation by the Local Health Departments on DEQ stakeholder committees, DEQ funding to locals has been reallocated, and a joint workgroup has just completed a review of the Sanitary Survey process and is implementing process improvements. Another workgroup will next evaluate shared Water Quality interests.
As federal budget cuts loom and there is an increased push for efficiency in providing services, the governance process provides a forum to plan for the more efficient use of limited resources.
Local Health Liaison
Utah Department of Environmental Quality