UTAH

Large algal bloom warning remains in place at Utah Lake ahead of Labor Day weekend

Aug 31, 2023, 6:36 AM | Updated: Oct 23, 2023, 12:33 pm

Cody Ellsworth, water quality technician for the Utah Division of Water Quality, collects a sample ...

Cody Ellsworth, water quality technician for the Utah Division of Water Quality, collects a sample from Utah Lake on July 13. A lakewide algal bloom warning advisory is still in place heading into the Labor Day weekend. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

(Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

PROVO — Utah County health officials are reminding people who plan to visit Utah Lake this Labor Day weekend that a lake-wide algal bloom warning advisory is in place, as its situation has worsened since the first advisories were issued earlier this summer.

The reminder, sent Wednesday, calls on recreationists to “protect themselves and pets” by monitoring updates maintained by the Utah Division of Water Quality. Utah County Health Department officials first issued a lake-wide warning advisory on Aug. 15 after issuing localized warnings for American Fork Marina, Lincoln Beach, Lindon Marina and Provo Bay in July.

The warning advises people to avoid swimming or water skiing anywhere on Utah Lake, although boating and fishing are fine. Health officials say boaters should try to avoid blooms while on the water, while anglers should clean fish well and discard guts from any fish they catch at the lake and keep.

Lake visitors should also keep their children and pets away from the water if they’re near the lake. Algal blooms tend to look like thick blue-green patches on the lake surface.

Ashley Sumner, a spokeswoman with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, which oversees the Utah water quality division, told KSL.com that the county’s reminder is an “extra precaution” that local officials wanted to make, and nothing has changed over the past few weeks.

“I think (the lake) has been the same over the last couple of weeks,” she said, adding that the department is waiting on the results of new water samples collected a few days ago. “Conditions can change really quickly on the lake, depending on current, depending on weather, but we just know this time of year is really a time to be cautious at Utah Lake for harmful algal blooms.”

Algal blooms form when there are warm and sunny days, warm water temperatures and nutrient pollution mix together, causing naturally occurring cyanobacteria to multiply “very quickly” in the water,” according to state environmental officials. Blooms produce toxins that can cause skin irritation, illness and even damage the human kidney, liver or neurologic system.

Pets, wildlife and livestock can also experience serious illness or die from consuming the toxins. One dog died and three others became sick from toxic algae mats that formed on the Virgin River in southern Utah earlier this month.

Utah Lake has been hampered by large algal blooms in recent years, and experts warned in June that this year could be bad as Utah’s record-breaking snowpack melted into the creeks, streams and rivers that help fill the lake.

Hannah Bonner, an environmental scientist with the Utah Division of Water Quality, said at the time that flooding and runoff meant there would likely be more nutrient pollution, like fertilizer, ending up in the lake, even if the snowpack runoff brought down water temperatures at the start of the season.

“We also have had a lot of flooding, a lot of runoff, some big rain events, eroding rivers and streams, which is actually going to introduce more nutrient pollution into our waterbodies, so more food for algal growth,” she said.

The good news is that cooler days are on the horizon as autumn approaches. This is when Utah Lake’s algal bloom situation typically begins to improve.

“When temperatures get cooler, when we get more precipitation sort of in the later fall time, is when we generally see things start to calm down,” Sumner says. “If there’s a lot of weather moving in, there are lower temperatures and things tend to improve.”

In the meantime, people should avoid entering the water and keep pets away too, especially this holiday weekend.

The department also posts updates on social media every Friday regarding which bodies of water have harmful algal bloom advisories in place, which can be used to track which areas to be aware of while recreating.

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Large algal bloom warning remains in place at Utah Lake ahead of Labor Day weekend