Summer brings threat of harmful algal blooms to Utah’s lakes

Jun 22, 2023, 3:00 PM

A fisherman disassembles his pontoon boat at Utah Lake's Lincoln Beach on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. T...

A fisherman disassembles his pontoon boat at Utah Lake's Lincoln Beach on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. The Utah Lake Commission and partners are pilot-testing two different treatments for algae at the lake. Lindon Marina and Lincoln Beach marina will both undergo treatments this summer. Both locations will be accessible for recreation use and the difference in water quality will be noticeable.

SALT LAKE CITY — Many of Utah’s lakes and reservoirs are full after the state’s record-breaking snowfall over the winter. And as the water temperature increases, the threat of harmful algal blooms can return.

What causes algal blooms

Heat is one of the major triggers for these blooms, especially when there are excessive nutrients or nutrient pollution in the bodies of water.

Environmental Scientist, Dr. Hanna Bonner says nutrient pollution is made up of things like dog feces or leaves from gutters that make their way into our waterways and feed the algae. 

Because of excessive spring runoff, the nutrients in the water are higher than usual. As such, Bonner said people should watch out for changes to the water.

“Water might appear green, cyan, blue-green, and it also will change the texture of the water.”

“That can cause … severe symptoms — stomachache, vomiting, diarrhea, to more severe illness, including potentially death,” said Bonner.

What to look out for

The color of the water can be a telltale sign of harmful algal blooms, as the algal can turn the water green, blue, red, pink, white, gray, or purple. However, you cannot always differentiate non-toxic algae from a harmful bloom by color. According to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, one feature to watch for is algae that look like foam, scum or paint on the surface of the water. 

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality warns that blooms may not always be visible on the surface of the water. They may move depending on the weather, or rise and fall between the surface and the floor of the water body.

There are also harmful algal blooms that grow on the bottom of rivers. They can cover rocks, plants, and other objects on the bed.


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Summer brings threat of harmful algal blooms to Utah’s lakes