Jeff Ostermiller

Senior Scientist
Utah Division of Water Quality


Jeff Ostermiller is a senior scientist for Utah’s Division of Water Quality.  In his 12 years working for the state he has led a number of significant water quality initiatives, several of which continue to be integral to Great Salt Lake water quality initiatives.  He started his career by establishing a biological assessment program for the state.  Later, he helped draft a couple of successful EPA grant proposals that provided the resources necessary to expand these assessments to Great Salt Lake wetlands.  As the Chief of the Water Quality Management Section, he collaborated on an interagency team to create a water quality strategy for Great Salt Lake.  He also served as head of the Science Panel for the Willard Spur collaborative investigations.  He currently is primarily responsible for establishing programs to reduce inputs of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution to Utah’s lakes and streams, a significant and widespread water quality problem that, until recently, has not been explicitly addressed in a cohesive water quality policy. In this role he plans to continue collaborating with others to understand and address any deleterious impacts of excess nitrogen and phosphorus inputs in the Great Salt Lake watershed.

Title: The Willard Spur Project: Addressing Conflict through Collaborative Resource Management

10:45am - Friday, May 13th

Abstract: About five years ago, the Division of Water Quality (DWQ) received several legal challenges to a discharge permit for a newly constructed wastewater treatment facility on the shore of Great Salt Lake.  Some expressed concerns about potentially deleterious impacts to the Willard Spur ecosystem—an arm of Bear River Bay.  Others believed that the transition from failing lagoons and septic systems to a modern mechanical treatment facility would improve water quality.  Unfortunately, data to evaluate risk from the discharge were essentially nonexistent, negating a thorough and objective resolution to either of these beliefs.  Meanwhile, ongoing commercial and residential development in the cities of Perry and Willard was threatened by the inability to effectively utilize existing wastewater infrastructure.  One outcome of these factors was considerable conflict among stakeholder groups with legitimate, but very different ideas about how DWQ should proceed with the project. 

To address these disparate concerns, DWQ facilitated a compromise based on collaborative natural resource management principles.  This involved the creation of a Steering Committee, with leaders from 13 stakeholder groups with divergent, yet equally important, interests in the project.  Also established was a Science Panel, consisting of technical experts, to help guide the technical investigations needed to: evaluate the short- and long-term risks of the discharge to the Spur’s designated uses, and inform the development of rules or policies intended to ensure the long-term protection of this important ecosystem.  In the years that followed, these two groups guided the successful completion of several investigations.  The knowledge gleaned from these investigations was insightful and provided an objective context that helped with constructive stakeholder dialogue.  However, the process that was followed was arguably an even more important determinant of project success.  Instead of presenting the specific results of the investigations, this talk will provide an overview of the process. 

The strengths and weakness of this process will be presented via a retrospective project evaluation, organized into three broad objectives that are commonly used to  evaluate collaborative conservation efforts: 1) process criteria (i.e., shared vision , goals, communication),  2) environmental outcome criteria (i.e., ongoing resource protection, improvement to management approaches) and 3) socioeconomic outcome criteria (i.e., strengthened relationships).  This presentation hopes to initiate a dialogue on how collaborative conservation efforts for Willard Spur achieved success and how these efforts could be generalized to improve resource management strategies across the Great Salt Lake basin.