ENVIRONMENT

Professor receives $3 million grant to study algae blooms

Sep 7, 2022, 5:09 PM
Deer creek algae...
Deer Creek Algae: Credit Wasatch County Health Dept

SALT LAKE CITY – University of Utah civil and environmental engineering professor Ramesh Goel has received a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to figure out why some algae blooms are dangerous and others are not. 

Accordingly, the research will take place at Utah Lake, Zion National Park and areas near the California-Nevada state line.  Goel said in a press release, that his team will try to better understand how the algae grow and understand the potential effect of temperature and sunlight. 

Goel said the research will help officials make timely decisions on algae blooms. 

“These models based on experimental data will enable us to forecast the extent and duration of the blooms,” Goel said. “And water professionals and health managers can make better, earlier decisions.” 

What are harmful algae blooms?

According to the Utah Division of Water Quality (DWQ), naturally occurring cyanobacteria in the water multiply and form colonies or blooms. Algae blooms become harmful to humans and animals when they produce cyanotoxins. 

Some causes listed by the DWQ about why the algae bloom include,

  • High nutrient levels, particularly phosphorus
  • Abundant sunlight
  • Warm water temperatures and
  • Stagnant or slow-moving waters

DWQ said that it is difficult to tell when a bloom is dangerous. The division advises avoiding contact with any floating mats, scums, or enclosed water because toxins produced by harmful blooms can attack the liver, nervous system or irritate the skin. 

Preventing harmful blooms

According to the DWQ, wastewater and runoff from agriculture and stormwater can carry nitrogen and phosphorous that promote the growth of cyanobacteria. The division advises the following to help improve water quality. 

  • Reduce the amount of fertilizer you use on your lawn.
  • Use only phosphorus-free fertilizer when possible.
  • Fix leaking septic systems.
  • Use only phosphorus-free detergents in dishwashers.
  • Keep yard debris such as leaves or grass clippings from washing into storm drains.
  • Pick up pet waste.

You can find an interactive map showing which Utah bodies of water have harmful blooms on the DWQ website.

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