This study evaluates the effect of emission reductions at two coal-fired power plants in northwestern Colorado on a nearby wilderness area. Control equipment was installed at both plants during 1999–2004 to reduce SO2 and NOx emissions. One challenge was separating the effects of local from regional emissions, which also declined during the study period. The long-term datasets examined confirm that emission reductions had a beneficial effect on air and water quality in the wilderness. Despite a 75 % reduction in SO2 emissions, sulfate aerosols measured in the wilderness decreased by only 20 %. Because the site is relatively close to the power plants (<75 km), the slow rate of conversion of SO2 to sulfate, particularly under conditions of low relative humidity, might account for this less than one-to-one response. On the clearest days, emissions controls appeared to improve visibility by about 1 deciview, which is a small but perceptible improvement. On the haziest days, however, there was little improvement perhaps reflecting the dominance of regional haze and other components of visibility degradation particularly organic carbon and dust. Sulfate and acidity in atmospheric deposition decreased by 50 % near the southern end of the wilderness of which 60 % was attributed to power plant controls and the remainder to reductions in regional sources. Lake water sulfate responded rapidly to trends in deposition declining at 28 lakes monitored in and near the wilderness. Although no change in the acid–base status was observed, few of the lakes appear to be at risk from chronic or episodic acidification.
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Effect of power plant emission reductions on a nearby wilderness area: a case study in northwestern Colorado