ELOY — The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality recently applied soil stabilizer to 98 acres of open, or disturbed, desert in Pinal County along Interstate 10.

ADEQ said the “environmentally friendly product” binds together the loose soil, reducing the potential for blowing dust. In selecting these areas for treatment, ADEQ analyzed dust storm origin points and satellite views, visited parcels of land near I-10, and discussed potential problem spots with partner agencies.

By treating the acreage, ADEQ hopes to reduce the shallow dust storms that are created when westerly winds blow across open desert. These channels of dust do not extend high into the sky but can quickly impact visibility for drivers on the highway.

“These smaller dust storms are just as dangerous for drivers as the massive walls of dust created from extreme winds originating from powerful monsoonal thunderstorms,” said Daniel Czecholinski, ADEQ acting Air Quality Division director. “By targeting our treatment to open desert near the highway, we could potentially reduce the threat for people living and traveling in the area.”

ADEQ is also funding a team of researchers from the University of Arizona, led by Joseph Blankinship in the Department of Environmental Science, to determine the effectiveness of soil stabilizer and a second treatment — mulch created from recycled landscape materials — for reducing blowing dust. Over the next year, the team will conduct a study on an additional 3 acres.

“Once soil structure in the desert is disturbed and plants disappear, it is difficult to re-establish landscapes resistant to erosion,” Blankinship said. “Helping to glue together and protect the soil in the short term with the application of soil stabilizer and mulch will likely reduce blowing dust but could also encourage long-term plant growth that will ultimately stabilize the soil naturally once again. The goal is to find the best way to do that.”

Both of these projects follow a successful application of soil stabilizer on 56 acres in the same area between Eloy and Picacho Peak in 2017. The surface of that soil remains intact with noticeable plant growth at the site, compared to a neighboring plot of land that was not treated.

To date, 155 acres have been treated with soil stabilizer. The parcels treated include private property and Arizona state land. The project also complements the Dust Detection and Warning System currently being installed by the Arizona Department of Transportation along I-10 in Pinal County.

ADEQ is part of the I-10 Dust Workgroup that has taken measures to address blowing dust during periods of high wind along I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix. This group includes representatives from other Arizona state and county agencies, as well as tribes and neighboring state agencies.

The I-10 Dust Workgroup participants include: ADEQ, U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service, Arizona State Land Department, University of Arizona, National Weather Service, ADOT, Arizona Department of Public Safety, Pinal County Air Quality Department, Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, Arizona Department of Agriculture, Pima County Department of Air Quality, Gila River Indian Community and the New Mexico Department of Transportation.

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