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Scientists collect data at Farmington Bay; no harmful algal bloom detected

SHARE Scientists collect data at Farmington Bay; no harmful algal bloom detected

SYRACUSE — State water quality officials say algae in Farmington Bay is a different species from the one that shut down Utah Lake for nearly two weeks, but it potentially could carry the same health risks if exposed to similar conditions.

Scientists from the state Division of Water Quality visited the area Friday to test the water and collect data.

Farmington Bay's water level is low, which creates an environment more conducive than usual to algal blooms, said Ben Holcomb, coordinator of the Division of Water Quality's Harmful Algae Bloom Program.

"As the water gets lower, it has the tendency to be warmer," Holcomb said. "It has the tendency to concentrate the nutrients that are available (to feed algae). … The warmth and the access to nutrients would increase, so it would increase the likelihood of bloom."

The different algae in Farmington Bay would produce a "very similar toxin" to the one at Utah Lake in the event of such a bloom, according to Holcomb. But the data collection at Farmington Bay is in its beginning stages and there are no indications so far of that health risk, he said.

"Right now, we just kind of want to keep our finger on the pulse and make sure nothing is getting out in front of us without us knowing about it," Holcomb said. "We don't want to be caught by surprise."

Scientists are also testing to see whether the ecosystem in Farmington Bay is shifting to consist of more organisms that require no dissipated oxygen as opposed to those that do. Holcomb said such a change, if it is occurring, may have a domino effect on the local habitat.

"When that occurs, there are definitely ecological consequences," he said. "The waterfowl may not particularly like that kind of food source, and they may move."

Additional data collection at Farmington Bay is scheduled for early next week. Sensors are also collecting electronic data about the bay's conditions around the clock, Holcomb said.

Utah Lake was closed July 15 due to algae concentration that was about three times safe levels. It reopened Thursday to boating after tests showed algae levels had dropped, but the advisory against swimming on the lake or participating in water sports there remains in place.

Email: blockhart@deseretnews.com

Twitter: benlockhartnews