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Many lakes in Utah under health advisories for harmful algal blooms

Sep 1, 2023, 10:29 PM | Updated: 10:47 pm

If your Labor Day weekend plans involve getting out on the lake, you’ll want to be checking much more than the forecast before you go. Water experts say it’s a must for people to look at potential health watches and advisories in place, because swimming, fishing, and boating may come with serious risk of getting sick.

The weather was not the most ideal on a cloudy, stormy Friday afternoon, but for the lone group launching in at American Fork Boat Harbor, it didn’t mean Labor Day weekend boating was off.

“We thought we’d give it a go here at Utah Lake,” said Trevor Snarr, sitting in his friend’s new boat.

Though, the water was also not too ideal.

“We were actually talking about the algae that’s out here, and whether or not it’s, for me, whether it’s safe to jump in,” he said.

The short answer for Snarr, his friend, and friend’s family was “no” for swimming, because of a Warning Advisory in effect. Utah Lake isn’t the only place where the water isn’t safe.

Boat launching in greenish water

A group launches a boat into Utah Lake Friday (KSL TV)

“We’re seeing numerous harmful algal blooms popping up around the state, in our lakes and reservoirs and rivers,” said Dr. Hannah Bonner, environmental scientist with the Utah Division of Water Quality.

Dr. Bonner explained that they monitor many of the most popular spots across the state and said the harmful agal blooms popping up can leave people sick, with permanent health effects, and can be fatal depending on severity.

The blooms are more deadly for dogs, she said.

“Dogs are most vulnerable to these harmful algal blooms, because they’re much more likely to eat or drink something that we as humans would avoid,” Dr. Bonner said.

The Division of Water Quality has seen a number of dog deaths around the state this summer, Dr. Bonner said, including a death first reported by KSL TV earlier this week.

In that instance, the family said they visited Sandy Beach on Utah Lake but didn’t even go in the water.
Dr. Bonner suggests anyone planning to recreate on or around waterways in Utah look for blue or green water with a different texture, or blue or green gunk along the shoreline.

“You might see anything from an appearance like spilled paint, to grass clippings, to almost like cottage cheese, or pea soup-like texture,” she said.

sticks in the water covered with strings of green algee

Harmful algal blooms have left all of Utah Lake under a Warning Advisory (KSL TV)

Before heading out, she urged people check the interactive map the DWQ updates constantly on the website habs.utah.gov. It shows what kinds of advisories are in place and where the advisories are located.

Areas with a yellow mark, Dr. Bonner explained, are under a Health Watch, but not a formal advisory. She said that means they suspect a bloom is present, and people should be extra cautious and looking for algae. Boating is okay, people should be careful when swimming. Animals should be kept away and anyone fishing should clean their fish well and discard the guts.

There are two formal advisory levels if harmful algal blooms are present.

An orange Warning Advisory– like what’s been issued for Utah Lake– means a confirmed toxic bloom is present and may cause illness. Animals should be kept away and people should not swim or water ski at all. Anyone fishing should clean fish well and discard guts. Boating is okay, but boaters should avoid areas of algae.

A red Danger Advisory means there’s a dense accumulation of blooms with high toxic production.

The Danger Advisory, which is currently in place in the Charleston Day Use Area on Deer Creek Reservoir, can have permanent or deadly effects on humans and animals. This means that no one should swim or water ski, no one should be fishing or eating any fish caught in the area, and animals should be kept away. Extreme caution should be used while boating.

The map also shows what areas are currently safe for recreating on.

A map showing which waterways are considered safe and which are health advisories. (Division of Water Quality)

“You can still recreate, and we have a bunch of water bodies around the state that are still available,” Dr. Bonner said. “But definitely just take some time to know what to look for, and to look around before you hop in the water so you can make sure you have a safe and happy weekend.”

This family Snarr went boating with Friday planned to putz around and enjoy the water– without getting wet.

“We’re not going to take any risks,” Snarr said. “We’re just out here to enjoy the water and, you know, just chill out.”

Click here to see the latest water conditions around Utah.

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Many lakes in Utah under health advisories for harmful algal blooms