State preparing for return of harmful algal blooms on Utah lakes

May 17, 2018, 7:04 PM | Updated: May 18, 2018, 1:21 am

SALT LKE CITY, Utah – As the weather warms up, and people head out to play on Utah’s lakes and reservoirs, the state has begun preparations for the likely return of harmful algal blooms.

Each of the last two summers ugly, toxic algal blooms have invaded Utah Lake and other reservoirs and lakes across the state, forcing people out of the water. More than a dozen state and local agencies got together Thursday to plan to respond to algal blooms if they develop this summer.

It’s hard to predict or forecast algal blooms. Recent history tells Utah water scientists they’re likely to see the slimy green ooze again this summer.

“We’re prepared to handle whatever comes to us,” said Ben Holcomb, program coordinator of the Harmful Algal Blooms Program in the Utah Division of Water Quality. “It’s increasing every year.”

After two years of harmful algal blooms that shut down recreation on Utah Lake and several other lakes, the Division of Water Quality has better prepared to battle the blooms this summer.

“Every year we improve,” said Holcomb.

They have more knowledge, more tools, and more money to attack the problem this year than they did when an algal bloom exploded in several days to 90 percent of Utah Lake in 2016.

“Testing is a lot quicker, more accurate, and it is becoming more widespread,” Holcomb said.

Two years ago, they had to send water samples to Florida for testing. Today, there are several labs that can do that kind of testing locally in a few days.

Thursday’s meeting saw more than a dozen agencies get together to plan a coordinated response in the event of an algal bloom this summer.

“It’s really an all hands on deck kind of thing when a bloom comes in,” said Jodi Gardberg, who oversees the Harmful Algal Bloom Program for the Division of Water Quality.

They now use satellite imagery and buoys in the lakes to identify pigments and toxins in the wat to identify blooms sooner. They still count on the public to alert them when they see algal blooms.

“We’re more educated, we have better tools, and the science is emerging so that we as a state can do a better response,” said Gardberg.

The legislature also gave them $178,000 for sampling and analyzing algal blooms. One-third of that money goes to local health departments, which alert the public when algal blooms are discovered on specific waterways.

“Each year we get better,” said Gardberg.

“The first and foremost goal is to protect public health. Then also to protect the use, the environment, the water, and how it is utilized,” said Barbara Crouch, executive director of the Utah Poison Control Center.

Two years ago, more than 700 people called the Utah Poison Control hotline with health issues related to the blooms. Last year there were 200 calls.

“About a third of the people that have contacted us actually have adverse effects,” said Crouch.

They reported symptoms like skin rashes, eye irritation, and vomiting.

“Children are at greater risk because they tend to spend a lot more time in the water,” said Crouch.

So are pets, she added. They may splash around in the toxic blooms, and even drink the water.

Each agency that responds to the harmful algal blooms has contributed to the growing body of data and adding to the collective knowledge about them. The more data they gather, the more they can understand the health impacts and environmental impacts from the harmful toxins.

“Learning more about adverse health effects and being able to warn the public in a more expeditious manner,” said Crouch.

Algal blooms are not just a Utah problem.

“Nationally, and even globally, they are increasing in their magnitude and their duration,” said Holcomb. “These organisms are occurring earlier in the year and becoming more dominant.”

Last year, the first algal bloom arrived on Utah Lake in June. This year, with lower water levels and warmer water, the water scientists point out conditions are primed for another bloom.

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality has a web page dedicated to harmful water blooms so you can check out the conditions on a lake near you.

You can find out more about the science and what’s going on in the water near you at habs.utah.gov.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Local News

Jayce Watkins drives for Uber in Salt Lake City. (KSL TV)...
Matt Gephardt

Get Gephardt: Utah Uber driver warns of scam targeting drivers’ earnings

Uber drivers make a living taking passengers for a ride, but a call came to Get Gephardt from a Utah Uber driver who says a scammer tried to take him for a ride.
7 hours ago
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, and Glenn Wright shake hands after debating in the 3rd Congressional Dist...
Dennis Romboy, Deseret News & Lad Egan, KSL TV

Utah congressional debate between John Curtis, Glenn Wright highlights differences

Republican Rep. John Curtis and Democratic challenger Glenn Wright engaged in a low-key debate Thursday.
1 day ago
Crime tape blocking pedestrian from Redwood Meadows Park (KSL TV)...
Michael Houck

Teenager shot near Meadows Park in SLC; one juvenile in custody

Salt Lake City Police are investigating a shooting involving a group of juveniles Thursday evening.
1 day ago
Former Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright takes notes during a Utah gubernatorial Republican primary d...
Dennis Romboy, Deseret News

Who’s in — and is anyone out — for congressional, Senate debates ahead of midterm election?

Utah is expecting five debates in October for the upcoming races.
1 day ago
Castle of Chaos...
Brooke Williams and Madison Swenson, KSL TV

Haunted attractions to visit in Utah this Halloween

Here's a list of some haunted attractions we found that you can enjoy this Halloween.
1 day ago
Tire marks are visible on 13-year-old Isaiah Munger's chest after he was hit by a car while riding ...
Michael Locklear

Parents of teen hit by car in Bountiful crosswalk urge drivers to pay attention

The parents of a teen hit by a car on Wednesday are grateful he’s alive, and they’re also urging drivers to pay more attention.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Ask these questions before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Cloud storage technology with 3d rendering drawer with files in cloud...
PC Laptops

How backing up your computer can help you relieve stress

Don't wait for something bad to happen before backing up your computer. Learn how to protect your data before disaster strikes.
young woman with stickers on laptop computer...
Les Olson

7 ways print marketing materials can boost your business

Custom print marketing materials are a great way to leave an impression on clients or customers. Read for a few ideas to spread the word about your product or company.
young woman throwing clothes to organize a walk in closet...
Lighting Design

How to organize your walk-in closet | 7 easy tips to streamline your storage today

Read our tips to learn how to organize your walk-in closet for more storage space. These seven easy tips can help you get the most out of your space.
State preparing for return of harmful algal blooms on Utah lakes