Performance Details

Department of Environmental Conservation

Mission

Protect human health and the environment. AS 46.03.010, AS 44.46.020

Core Services

  • Protecting Human Health
  • Protecting the Environment

Arrow GraphicResults

Core Services
A: Department Core Services  Details >
A1: Protecting Human Health  Details >
  • TARGET #1: 85% of regulated systems comply with drinking water supply system operator certification requirements.
  • TARGET #2: No days when air is unhealthy for sensitive groups.
  • TARGET #3: Increase the number and types of tests performed to support public health assessments.
  • TARGET #4: All serviceable rural Alaska homes are served by safe and sustainable sanitation facilities.
A2: Protecting the Environment  Details >
  • TARGET #2: Reduce the impacts of new and historical pollution to land and water.
  • TARGET #3: All water facility, wastewater discharge, and air quality permit-holders are current and in compliance with permit requirements.
  • TARGET #4: 100% of high risk and 20% of non-high risk contingency plan holders are inspected or evaluated for oil discharge prevention annually.

Performance Detail


A: Result - Department Core Services

A1: Core Service - Protecting Human Health
    
Target #1: 85% of regulated systems comply with drinking water supply system operator certification requirements.

Methodology: The number of water supply systems that employ an operator certified at the correct level is divided by the total number of water supply systems that are subject to this requirement.

Analysis of results and challenges: Certification validates that Water System Operators have the qualifications necessary to safeguard public health. The State’s Operator Certification program classifies water systems based on the size and complexity of a system, and determines whether operators have experience and knowledge commensurate with the system’s classification. In order to assist operators with achieving certification, the Operator Certification program offers training and administers examinations.

Although the Operator Certification program oversees certification in water treatment, water distribution, wastewater treatment, and wastewater collection, this measure is limited to drinking water supply system certification as public health is most closely related to drinking water safety. This measure also excludes systems with less than 25 users or systems where users obtain water on a house by house basis (private wells or rain catchments), since those systems are not subject to Operator Certification requirements.

The Operator Certification program places an emphasis on notifying systems of certification requirements, increasing the availability of exams for operators, and promoting operator training opportunities. Through these efforts, the number of systems employing properly certified operators has increased by 4.3% over the past five years. Several factors affect compliance rates, including frequent turnover of system operators, rising travel costs which inhibit operator travel to training required for certification, and increasing complexity of systems which drives up the certification requirements. Recognizing that full compliance is unlikely given these challenges, the program has adopted 85% compliance as the target to achieve and maintain. In FY2017, the program slightly exceeded this target. In addition to current efforts, the program is moving forward with initiatives that will improve outreach to systems and increase technical assistance opportunities for operators. As these new initiatives are developed and implemented, the program anticipates a further increase in the number of systems with properly certified operators.
    
Target #2: No days when air is unhealthy for sensitive groups.

Methodology: Data is calculated using sampling information from samplers in the Municipality of Anchorage, City and Borough of Juneau, the Fairbanks North Star Borough, and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley.

Analysis of results and challenges: The data for the 2017 calendar year will be available in March 2018.

The Department of Environmental Conservation has been collecting ambient air data in the most populated communities around the state for over 25 years. Air monitoring ensures compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards designed to protect public health. The EPA sets health-based standards for particulate matter and gaseous pollutants. In the state, the primary pollutants of concern are particulate matter and carbon monoxide (CO). Violations of the standards occur when the concentration of air pollution particulates rise above the defined limit as a result of natural events and/or emissions from man-made sources. Natural sources of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution include smoke from wild fires, while coarse particulate matter (PM10) pollution includes ash from volcanic eruption or windblown dust from gravel bars. Man-made PM2.5 pollution is often the byproduct of combustion processes, including home heating emissions such as from wood stoves, and diesel and gas vehicle emissions. Man-made PM10 pollution in Alaska is frequently produced by road dust from gravel roads and road sanding materials.

The chart above shows the number of days the air quality was deemed unhealthy for sensitive groups, including children, the elderly, and people with lung or heart diseases. The increased number of days witnessed in 2012 and beyond is due to the installation of a new monitoring site which captures air quality issues in North Pole. The decrease in natural pollution from 2015 to 2016 can be attributed to a wetter summer and lower wildland fire smoke impact. The downward trend in man-made pollution between 2014 and 2016 could be the result of the wood stove change-out program and burn curtailments instituted by the Fairbanks North Star Borough (FNSB). In 2016, all exceedances were man-made and were recorded during the winter. 19 of the 21 events were recorded in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, while two exceedances were recorded at the Butte site in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. Since 2000, no violations of the CO standards have been recorded.

The State is currently working with the Fairbanks North Star and the Matanuska Susitna Boroughs to evaluate the extent of the pollution problem and to tailor control strategies aimed at eliminating the fine particulate problem. More information about DEC’s air monitoring projects throughout the state can be found at http://www.dec.state.ak.us/air/am/index.htm.

Related links:
   • http://www.dec.state.ak.us/air/am/index.htm


    
Target #3: Increase the number and types of tests performed to support public health assessments.

Methodology: All tests performed by the lab are logged and tracked from sample receipt through final testing and reporting.

Analysis of results and challenges: Testing capacity at the Environmental Health Laboratory fluctuates annually as a result of several factors, including: an International Standards Organization (ISO) based Quality Management Program requiring increased Quality Assurance and Quality Control (QA/QC) procedures, validation and parallel testing, and new staff training. The development and implementation of new tests can show significant peaks. The Laboratory continues to pursue alternative analytical methods and technologies that reduce the testing processes (method steps) required to obtain results. This investment provides efficiencies and allows for an increase in sample capacity that can correlate to consolidated processes.

In FY2017, both the number of tests requested and the number of processes (method steps) performed in the year decreased, by 21.4% and 4.6% respectfully. The dairy work decreased due to the laboratory ceasing testing services of non-regulatory dairy analyses. The food and water processes were essentially the same as FY2016. There was a slight increase in animal testing requests, which are mostly subcontracted, due to some morbidity and mortality events. The uptick in shellfish was multi-faceted: new growing areas, ‘hot’ shellfish tests that require repeats, and an opportunistic survey for Domoic acid. The environmental work, which includes water and soil testing, is again visible on the graph due to some internal work performed for other DEC programs.
    
Target #4: All serviceable rural Alaska homes are served by safe and sustainable sanitation facilities.

Methodology: Total number of serviceable housing units divided by total number of homes connected for service.

Analysis of results and challenges: The Village Safe Water (VSW) program continues its work to achieve the goal that 100% of year-round occupied homes have access to in-home running water and sewer. This service has historically been provided by centralized piped, closed haul systems, or individual septic tanks/wells. This goal is limited to rural households in communities that have the financial, managerial, and technical capacity to properly operate a facility once it is built and where these types of systems are physically feasible.

The baseline year for this measure is FY2000 when 69% of rural homes were served by adequate sanitation systems. Compared to the 94% of households served in FY2017, this equates to a total increase of 25% over 17 years, or an annual average increase of 1.5%, which is lower than the program’s target of 2.5% per year. The pace of progress has slowed in recent years as federal and State funding for rural Alaska water and sewer projects has sharply declined, and the cost of constructing centralized systems in unserved communities has escalated. Additionally, an increasing share of total available funding has been needed in recent years to pay for needed upgrades to existing water and sewer systems, making less funds available for constructing systems that will provide first-time service to homes. There was a one percent decrease in the number of homes reported as served between FY2012 and FY2013, and again between FY2015 and FY2016. These changes were not due to homes losing service but rather changes in the methodology for collecting housing data. VSW and partner organizations are transitioning to a map-based housing inventory tracking system, which provides more accurate housing data. It should be noted that this estimate excludes homes and communities currently deemed as “unserviceable” by federal funding agencies and includes homes in larger communities that are eligible for federal funding but ineligible for VSW funding.

A2: Core Service - Protecting the Environment
    
Target #1: No polluted waters.

Methodology: Methodology: The number of polluted waters is based on the Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report, which Alaska is required to submit to the EPA every 2 years under Clean Water Act section 305(b). In this Report, the polluted waters are broken into two categories – impaired waters with a recovery plan (category 4) and impaired waters without a recovery plan (category 5). The list of category 5 impaired waters is also subject to EPA approval under Clean Water Act section 303(d).

Analysis of results and challenges: The number of polluted waters is based on the Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report which Alaska is required to submit to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) every two years under Clean Water Act sections 305(b) and 303(d). Report submittal delays have resulted in no change between FY2012 and FY2014 so FY2014 is not shown. The number of polluted waters has slowly declined since FY2002, remaining relatively stable since FY2010. Generally, more waters have been restored than have become polluted. Overall, the trend of more waters being restored than becoming polluted continues.

There are two main challenges in reducing the number of polluted waters. The first challenge is that pollution is dynamic. Even as polluted waterbodies are being restored, new waterbodies may become polluted, particularly in urban areas with dense populations. Pollution pressures are also seen in rural areas that are heavily used for recreation, tourism, and fishing. The second challenge is that, as more waters are restored, the remaining impaired waters tend to be the ones that have more difficult, controversial, and/or longer term problems. Additional regulatory tools (e.g., water quality standard variances) and strategies (e.g., waterbody restoration plans with collaborative agreements) may be necessary to address these pollution problems.

Reducing the number of polluted waters by controlling pollution before it reaches the environment through wastewater discharge permits, education, best management practices, and controls for nonpoint source pollution (i.e., small sources such as motorboats that are not controlled by permits) is key. For nonpoint source pollution, successful restoration of a waterbody requires working with the local community to educate stakeholders on the impacts of pollution and the actions that are necessary to restore a waterbody to a healthy condition. The Department must also take action to restore those waters that become polluted despite its best pollution prevention efforts.
    
Target #2: Reduce the impacts of new and historical pollution to land and water.

Methodology: This measure includes data related to Category 4 and Category 5 polluted waters that were restored each fiscal year as well as active contamination sites that were closed or restored for use during the same fiscal year. (note: The number of polluted waters is based on the Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report which Alaska is required to submit to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) every two years under Clean Water Act section 305(b), including the latest report for 2012 submitted on December 24, 2013, which is still awaiting EPA approval. Due to the delay in the submittal of the 2012 report, no new report data has been ratified since, and thus water restoration is excluded from this measure after the year 2013 until water restoration numbers can be confirmed.)

Analysis of results and challenges: In the last ten years, there has been a gradual increase in the polluted lands and waters that have been restored for use in relation to the total number of polluted sites.

As a general trend, more waters have been restored than have become polluted during this period. The challenge in reducing the number of polluted waters is recognizing that pollution is a dynamic situation. Even as polluted waterbodies are being restored, new waterbodies may become polluted due to the growth in Alaska’s population and the associated urban development. Pollution pressures are also being seen in rural areas that are heavily used for recreation, tourism and fishing. The key to making progress in reducing the number of polluted waters is to control pollution before it reaches the environment through wastewater discharge permits, best management practices and other controls for non-point source pollution (i.e. small sources that are not controlled by permits such as motor boats).

The number of new spills of oil or hazardous substances to land has also declined, although the total number of active contaminated sites continues to grow as additional sites of historical contamination are discovered. The complexity of existing projects and associated closures, the level of resources available to provide regulatory oversight and the cleanup itself continue to be challenges faced in closing and restoring sites for use by the public.

    
Target #3: All water facility, wastewater discharge, and air quality permit-holders are current and in compliance with permit requirements.

Methodology: Data includes operator certifications, water discharge permits, and air quality permits.

Analysis of results and challenges: The Department issues a variety of permits to help ensure operators are doing their part to help protect the environment and citizens from pollution. Each program monitors to ensure permit-holders are current and in compliance with the requirements of those permits through monitoring, inspections, and reviews of permit renewal applications.

For the water supply system operator certification program, which ensures operators have the qualifications necessary to meet the responsibility of safeguarding public health, a compliance rate of 85% was achieved in FY2017.

The water discharge program issues permits for domestic wastewater, seafood processing, fish hatcheries, mines, oil and gas facilities, and log-transfer facilities. Compliance has increased since the Department took over responsibility for these permits from the EPA and is currently at 88%.

The air quality permit program requires major and some minor stationary sources’ compliance be tracked. Under federal compliance reporting, status reverts to “unknown” if compliance is not evaluated in the past two years for major sources or five years for minor sources. These sources are assumed to be in compliance for the purposes of this measure as the majority of the sources are minor sources. In FY2017, 98% were compliant.
    
Target #4: 100% of high risk and 20% of non-high risk contingency plan holders are inspected or evaluated for oil discharge prevention annually.

Methodology: The percentage of oil discharge exercise participation or inspections is calculated by dividing the number of high risk contingency plan holders that were inspected or participated in the exercise by the number of contingency plan holders considered high risk. The percentage of oil discharge exercise participation or inspections is calculated by dividing the number of non-high risk contingency plan holders that were inspected or participated in the exercise by the by the number of contingency plan holders considered non-high risk.

Analysis of results and challenges: Regulated facilities and vessel operators in Alaska are required to have an approved oil discharge prevention and contingency plan in place before they are allowed to operate. These contingency plans outline the various steps and procedures in place to prevent oil discharges and the actions that would be taken in the event of a discharge to implement prompt and effective containment and cleanup of the area. The Department of Environmental Conservation regularly inspects these plan holders to ensure the procedures in place are sufficient to prevent or respond to an emergency situation. Preventing oil spills is the best means of protecting the environment and public health. In the event of a discharge, a prompt and effective detection and response significantly reduces the adverse impacts on the environment and public health.

Facilities and vessels designated as High Risk in the state include: those with new contingency plans; exploration, production, and refinery facilities; those with spills over 50 gallons; those with formal enforcement actions based on operations violations; and those that would have significant impacts to human health or the environment if there were a failure.

The Department acknowledges all facilities or vessels required to have a contingency plan represent some level of inherent risk to the state of Alaska, even if not identified as high risk. Auditing, inspecting, or testing of these perceived low-risk facilities and their contingency plans is important to verify ongoing prevention and response readiness.

In FY2017, there were a total of 148 regulated plan-holders, representing a net increase of one new plan-holder from the prior fiscal year. 66 plan-holders were identified as high-risk, four fewer than the previous year; 82 plan-holders were identified as non-high risk, an increase of six plan-holders from the previous year. The percent of inspections or response exercises conducted on High Risk plan holders decreased to 30% from 57% in FY2016. Oversight of non-high risk facilities exceeded the 20% benchmark for the fifth year in a row.

FY2017 was the second year following the reorganization of Spill Prevention and Response Division programs. Although it was anticipated that the metric would improve as staff gained experience and had access to more training in both plan review, inspections, conducting response exercises, and response actions, the actual number of high risk facilities inspected or drilled dropped due to several contributing factors. Division staff are responsible for both active spill response and oversight of regulated facilities. During FY2017, the number of recorded spills jumped from 1,980 to 2,033, suggesting that staff may have needed to spend greater amounts of time responding to spills than during the prior year. Similarly, 47 new plans, plan renewals, or major plan amendments were approved in FY2017, compared to 36 approvals issued in FY2016, indicating staff were tasked with greater levels of plan review than the prior year. Finally, budget constraints and travel/contractual restrictions limited staff ability to conduct field inspections, or previously unscheduled or remote response exercises requiring in-state travel for the last eight weeks of FY2017.

 

Current as of December 8, 2017