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Company tests algae solution that could be both short- and long-term fix for Utah Lake

SHARE Company tests algae solution that could be both short- and long-term fix for Utah Lake

Ryan Van Goethem, of SePro, demonstrates the use of a Secchi disk to measure the water clarity as the company works to treat an algal bloom at Utah Lake on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SPANISH FORK — Mike Pearce believes his company has a solution many doctors would envy: a cure that fixes the problem while also masking its symptoms.

Of course, the company he works for is in the sustainable solutions business, not the medical field, and instead of treating a human patient, it is instead working to fix Utah Lake.

SePRO is one of two companies that began treatments on Utah Lake earlier this summer as part of a pilot program intended to combat blue-green algal growth, which creates a harmful type of bacteria.

In recent years, rapid cyanobacteria growth has caused parts of Utah Lake to shut down for safety reasons. However, officials from the two companies believe their products are the key to making lake closures a thing of the past.

Pearce, a portfolio leader at SePRO, said his company’s ability to clear algae from bodies of water is unique because of its bevy of technologies.

“When you look at the portfolio of products that we have, we really can do a lot of different things that others can’t do, you know, specific to the source of what’s driving these harmful algal blooms: the phosphorus loading that’s occurring, the internal loading of phosphorus and really addressing the source of the issues,” he said.

SePRO has utilized three different proprietary technologies to clean Utah Lake: Pak 27, Phoslock, and SeClear Algaecide and Water Quality Enhancer.

The first is a non-copper algaecide. The second is a phosphorus mitigator, composed of bentonite clay and lanthanum. And SeClear is a copper-based combination of the first two, acting as both an algaecide as well as a phosphorus mitigator.

A mix of these technologies allows the company to strike at the heart of the problem — the lake’s nutrient excess — while also killing blooms and allowing people to recreate safely. It is a unique mix that allows for the best of both worlds.

“SePRO believes the source of the problem at Utah Lake lies in the phosphorus that is driving the algal growth throughout the lake,” Pearce said. “We know the technologies work. We know that SeClear works, we know that Pak27 works, and we know that Phoslock works. But it is more about the process and developing that,” he said, which takes “proper assessment, a solid prescription, precise implementation and a full adaptive management plan.”

In that way, the company’s treatments are very similar to those of doctors. First comes the checkup, then the prescription, which is followed by implementation.

“The first phase is really making that assessment of what needs to be done. You know, assessing the water body, water body characteristics,” Pearce said. “From the assessment we can put together what we believe is a very sound prescription.”

The group then implements the agreed upon mix of solutions and formulates a new plan based on the data they collect.

“Lake management, water quality management is a continual process,” Pearce said, dispelling the notion that any one treatment would be enough to permanently cure the lake.

The other half of the pilot program, Alpine Technical Services, has worked to clean Lindon Marina for the past several months and has reported significant progress using its copper-based solution. The company’s CEO, Richard Allred, wants to expand the treatment to encompass the entire lake and plans to make that proposal to the state and the Utah Lake Commission.

“It really is a reality — we could have a clean Utah Lake next year,” he said in an interview in August.

However, copper-based solutions have the potential to harm bodies of water if used over long periods of time, said Eric Ellis, executive director of the Utah Lake Commission, which is why he prefers they be used as short-term solutions.

The long-term solution, he said, would be eliminating the nutrient excess that causes algal blooms.

Efforts to solve the nutrient excess include replacing phragmites from the lake’s shoreline with native plants as well as removing carp from the lake, which eat plants that act as a nutrient filter for the water.

However, these watershed projects and SePRO’s efforts aren’t incompatible, Pearce said, and he hopes they can be used in tandem to expedite the lake’s cleaning, especially since a couple of the company’s solutions work as phosphorus mitigators.

“Once the lake is polluted, if you will, if you shut down the source of pollution through the watershed, the lake is still polluted until something is done inside that lake,” he said. “One way to look at Phoslock, really a way to describe it is there are decades of watershed management in every Phoslock application. And watershed management is good, but it can take decades and decades before positive impacts inside the lake would be observed.”