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Algal bloom headed to Jordan River

FILE"” The Jordan River Parkway is pictured near the James Madison Trailhead on Thursday, May 4, 2017.
FILE"” The Jordan River Parkway is pictured near the James Madison Trailhead on Thursday, May 4, 2017.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The latest satellite imagery shows that the algal bloom detected in Provo Bay of Utah Lake is now headed to the Jordan River.

In what threatens to be a repeat of the 2016 algal bloom outbreak, the onset of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, is creating a potential health hazard for the recreating public over one of the busiest holiday weekends.

Utah County health officials posted an advisory for Provo Bay on Thursday, and state regulators are asking the public to keep a watchful eye on potential other outbreaks.

Donna Spangler, spokeswoman with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, said scientists are detecting abnormally high levels of cyanobacteria — which contain toxins — but officials don’t know what type of toxins may be present at Utah Lake.

The best way to avoid exposure, Spangler added, is for people to avoid the water in impacted areas. Some cyanobacteria can contain the most common type of toxins that are microcystins and neurotoxins, with potential for neurological and respiratory effects.

People should also keep pets away from infested water.

Exposure to high concentrations of blue-green algae can lead to stomach pain, allergic-like reactions on the skin, diarrhea, fever, headache, nausea or vomiting.

Anyone who believes they may have had harmful exposure to the algae is asked to call the Utah Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222 or contact their doctor. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also produced a fact sheet on cyanobacteria.

Spangler said the bloom in Provo Bay was first detected via satellite imagery.

Last July, an algal bloom that ultimately spread to cover 90 percent of Utah Lake's surface resulted in its closure for two weeks. It spread to the Jordan River, leading to widespread concern about contamination of secondary feeder canals off the river, and the potential for crops and gardens to become tainted with the toxins.

Testing on a variety of produce and other vegetation revealed no risk to the consumers.

An algal bloom outbreak also closed Payson Lakes and infected Farmington Bay.

The most severe outbreak, however, happened at the high-elevation Scofield Reservoir, which reported a fish kill and dead bats that had come in contact with an infected food source.

The state has since deployed three water quality data buoys at Utah Lake that collect information every 15 minutes and transmit that data every hour. The equipment is part of an effort by regulators to have real-time monitors in place to better predict outbreaks.

Last year's outbreak sickened more than 100 people and led to calls by some city leaders for state policymakers to fix Utah Lake's nutrient pollution problem.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said harmful algal bloom outbreaks are a problem in each of the 50 states and occur when there is a combination of still water, heat and an excess of the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus.

Urban and agricultural runoff, and discharge from wastewater treatment plants have all been identified as culprits leading to algal bloom outbreaks.

Anyone who sees an algal bloom is asked to the 24-hour state hotline at 801-536-4123.