May 21, 2024

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Daybreak: a Testament of Sustainable Transformation in Utah

they needed to rectify the damage 

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Daybreak is a story about the effect of pushing for sustainable transformation. Learn how the community rises from an old mine pond.

Many communities can claim they are sustainable, but probably the one that epitomizes the word is none other than Daybreak in Utah.

The grand master-planned community in South Jordan has the environment in mind. Regardless of the sizes of houses for sale, each features an Energy-Star-certified design. Since 2011, residents can now take advantage of the Energy Star 3.0 standard, which means that the homes are up to 30% energy-efficient than those made under the standard building code.

At least a thousand acres in the community is open space with secondary water irrigation. Here, native plants also flourish, adding more colors and vibrancy. The developers also instituted a recycled program to ensure they can minimize construction waste.

But the biggest sustainability story is Daybreak itself. Its history is a perfect example of pivoting at 360 degrees.

It Begins in Bingham Canyon

It was the 1860s, and some towns in Utah were abuzz with people looking for riches. It turns out that the mountains were rich in mineral deposits, including the Oquirr Mountains, home of the Bingham Canyon.

Sometime in the 1880s, Enos Wall, who by then had a thorough mining career, found copper deposits in the canyon and saw its potential. He eventually obtained a claim to the land in 1887 and, three years after, began underground mining.

Then mining engineer Robert C. Gemmel and metallurgical engineer Daniel C. Jackling also knew the area’s prospects for profit but suggested the best way to get copper was to do an open pit. This way, they could access low-grade copper ores, mine them in bulk, and earn more for doing less.

Eventually, with the help of the Guggenheim family, the trio and their investors formed the Kennecott Corporation and became one of the leaders in mining copper in the twentieth century. However, it also underwent a lot of changes over the years.

Before the new millennium, the famous Kennecott Corporation ceased to exist when a British mining firm called Rio Tinto took over. The corporation now owns 100 percent of the business and mines gold and silver besides copper. The company has also grown to over 2,000 employees.

The Evaporation Pond

If there’s a mine, there’s an evaporation pond. This pond can have many uses, but for miners, the water helps separate the ores. Thus, in 1936, when Wall’s mine was in full swing, he built one in South Jordan near the Bingham Canyon.

The South Jordan Evaporation Ponds (SJEP) began its operations in 1936, collecting excess water originating from the canyon, particularly the mines.

However, the location also used to be the Lake Bonneville delta. Because of its previous status, some of the waters soaked into the grounds.

To avoid further problems, the mine built two more ponds. The use of the ponds for mining operations ceased in 1965, but until 1987, it caught water runoffs.

Pushing for Sustainable Transformation

Although mining continued in Utah, a huge part of the land, including the ponds, was no longer used. For this reason, Rio Tinto Kennecott thought of converting the area into a community. However, before they could do that, they needed to rectify the damage they did to the environment decades ago.

Based on the studies on the area in the 1990s, the level of heavy metals in the soil was high. Besides being near the mine, at least 13 percent of the community sat on the evaporation ponds. As mentioned, seepage occurred during their operations.

The report suggested that the massive clean-up began sometime in 1994, and Rio Tinto Kennecott began with the pond. First, they removed about six inches of the underlying soil and the remaining pond sediments. This is to ensure that they could eliminate the metals that soaked into the ground.

The wastes ended up in the Blue Water Repository that the company also set up based on the provisions of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).

As part of the clean-up process, the team then covered the remaining sediments with lower levels of metals and chemicals with topsoil and then grew vegetation in the area.

In 2003, the company got rid of the sediments at the consolidation site. Three years then, it entered into an agreement with EPA that will allow it to clean the remaining site without restrictions.

About five years after they cleaned the ponds, Rio Tinto Kennecott received a record of decisions from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which said that the cleanup process satisfied the agency’s rules and regulations.

Today, Daybreak doesn’t look anywhere near its original use. Instead, it stands as a testament that sustainability can still occur in places like a former mine or evaporation pond if one wills it.