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With help from EPA, Utah can again monitor lakes for dangerous algal blooms

SHARE With help from EPA, Utah can again monitor lakes for dangerous algal blooms

Ryan Parker, a water quality technician for the Utah Division of Water Quality, takes a water sample at Utah Lake in Provo to assess the algal bloom situation in 2018. The state just received a grant to continue monitoring Utah’s water bodies for the algae after budget cutbacks had stopped testing efforts.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Department of Environmental Quality received a one-time grant to help monitor harmful algal blooms in water bodies around the state.

The Environmental Protection Agency awarded the department $104,000 to help monitor 18 bodies of water around the state including Utah Lake and Deer Creek, East Canyon and Echo reservoirs.

Utahns will be able to check the status of these lakes and reservoirs online at deq.utah.gov/water-quality/harmful-algal-blooms-home beginning next week.

“This grant from EPA will allow DEQ’s scientists to resume the (algae) monitoring program, which was temporarily postponed due to budget cuts,” Erica Gaddis, director of the department’s Division of Water Quality, said in a press release. The money will help ensure public safety as people recreate on lakes.

The department temporarily suspended algae monitoring in June due to budget cuts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the economy. Officials asked residents and people enjoying water recreation to watch for signs of a bloom and take precautions to protect themselves.

“The previous program was right around $250,000. So, due to state budget uncertainty, DEQ’s program funding was cut, and monitoring was put on hold. We weren’t sending anybody out to look at any water bodies to see if any blooms were developing this summer,” said Jared Mendenhall, public information officer for DEQ.

He said the EPA funding will help get the monitoring teams back out to test, and they’ve prioritized heavily recreated areas and areas that have had blooms in the past.

Algae blooms happen when stagnant, nutrient-rich waters heat up, creating a perfect breeding ground for cyanobacteria — or blue-green algae.

“The harmful algal bloom is really a bacteria bloom ... and these occur naturally in water bodies,” Mendenhall said.

When conditions are right, these blooms can overtake a body of water and put humans and animals at risk for serious health problems, he said.

Some of the common side effects from exposure are rashes, headaches and gastrointestinal distress. However, the algae can also produce toxins that attack the liver and nervous systems, which have severe health effects in people and can kill animals.

Mendenhall advised people to follow posted signs, avoid surface scum and globules and wash their hands before eating after they’ve been in the water. He also advised people to clean any caught fish really well before eating and to not let pets drink water where algae is present.

These blooms present differently depending on the type of bacteria and weather conditions, however there are a few key characteristics to watch out for. The blooms can sometimes look like scum, spilled paint or grass clippings and often are a deep or bright green color.

“They can appear really quickly and shift locations based on weather. People should look at the water before they get in and avoid areas where algae is present,” Mendenhall said.