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Algal bloom testing at Utah Lake paused because of ‘state budget uncertainty’

Health and water quality officials will not be monitoring Utah Lake for toxic algal blooms this month due to uncertainty about state funding as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Due to state budget uncertainty, the (Utah) Division of Water Quality and Utah County Health Department are not able to sample, or provide updates for Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) on Utah Lake until at least July 1, 2020,” the county health department announced in an email and on social media.

According to the National Ocean Service, HABs occur “when algae — simple photosynthetic organisms that live in the sea and freshwater — grow out of control while producing toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds.”

“The human illnesses caused by HABs, though rare, can be debilitating or even fatal,” according to the National Ocean Service.

Toxic algal blooms have been a problem at Utah Lake for years, even leading to the lake being closed to the public in July 2016 after lab results showed the concentration of algal cells in the water was three times the threshold level that is safe for humans and animals to be exposed to.

“These types of algae release neurotoxins and hemotoxins that can affect brain, nervous system, and liver function,” Utah Department of Health Executive Director Joseph Miner said in 2016.

In lieu of monitoring, the Utah County Health Department encouraged Utah Lake visitors to pay attention to signs placed around the lake that warn about toxic algae.

“While signs will not be updated with Utah Lake HAB status, recreators are encouraged to refer to the infographic HAB signs posted at Utah Lake access points to recognize the signs of a HAB before recreating on Utah Lake,” the Utah County Health Department said.

One of those signs states that “harmful algal blooms are periodically detected in Utah Lake during the summer” and cautions boaters and swimmers to avoid water that “looks like spilled paint or antifreeze; has surface scums, mats or films; is discolored or has streaks; (or) has green globs below the surface.”

Utah Lake is not the only body of water whose algae monitoring has been impacted by budget uncertainty. The Department of Water Quality’s website states that the agency “cannot monitor, sample, or provide updates for harmful algal blooms on Utah waterbodies” until at least the beginning of July.

The Utah County Health Department removed its warning advisory for Utah Lake on Nov. 12 after tests results for three different locations on the lake “were below the recreation health-based threshold for a Warning Advisory for anatoxin-a and microcystin.”

Those concerned about human exposure to toxic algae are encouraged to call Utah Poison Control at 800-222-1222. Concerns about possible livestock exposure can be directed to the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food at 801-538-7100. Possible pet exposures should be reported to a local veterinarian.

Up-to-date satellite imagery of algal blooms at Utah Lake can be viewed at http://wqdatalive.com/public/669.

South Utah County residents tour West Mountain petroglyph sites, raise awareness

Go for a hike along West Mountain in south Utah County and you may stumble upon an anthropomorphic figure faded into a rust-colored boulder. Keep hiking and you may find another rock, this one decorated with spiral shapes or horned and clawed figures.

But you’ll have to step through thousands of empty bullet casings to see these drawings. That’s because West Mountain, home to approximately 100 Native American petroglyphs dating back hundreds or even thousands of years, is also a popular shooting location for gun and outdoor enthusiasts in Utah County.

“Historical/Cultural history is a big part of this mountain,” Steve Acerson, the representative of the Utah Rock Art Research Association’s Salt Lake field office, said in an email. “But the needs (expansion, extraction, etc.) of the current population growth have not been kind to those who exist currently (landowners, farmers, natural environmentalists, etc.) and their way of life.”

Acerson, who lives in Elk Ridge, led several Utah County residents on a tour Tuesday of cultural sites located on West Mountain, sites that are a quick drive away from gravel pits whose owners are considering expanding.

Acerson believes a combination of factors — population growth, mining expansion and gun-shooting — threaten the Desert Archaic, Paiute and Ute Indian Tribe drawings that have gone untouched for centuries.

On the tour, Acerson points to a boulder on the mountain just a few hundred feet beyond a shooting site riddled with shotgun shells and bullet casings, some of which are fresh and others that are corroded nearly beyond recognition. The boulder has petroglyphs drawn on it, Acerson tells the group, pausing as shots ring out in the distance.

Closer examination of the boulder, which has two ancient figures drawn on it, reveals a number of chips and discolorations caused by ricocheting bullets.

Multiple signs posted by the Bureau of Land Management urge shooters to “respect and protect America’s vanishing rock art,” but most of the signs themselves are decorated with bullet holes.

Acerson believes making residents aware of the archaic rock art, and letting them see the rocks for themselves, will make people more cautious about where — and what — they shoot in south Utah County.

“That’s what I hope,” said Acerson. “That’s why I try to show people rock art, because once they see it, then it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, I can see (why) it (should be preserved).’ ”

The rock art activist added that these sites should be treated with the same respect that is given to churches, temples and other places of worship.

“Spiritually, these sites are important to the Native cultures today,” Acerson said. “Just like (the churches and temples of) our Anglo religions.”

In addition to making residents aware of the sites, Acerson said building amenities, such as bike trails, on the mountain would help Utahns appreciate and enjoy the rock art in a respectful way.

The group of residents who hiked West Mountain on Tuesday, which included a few teenagers, were fascinated by the glimpse into the past they got by looking at the ancient drawings, debating among one another what the faded figures symbolized.

“Are there any theories about what these spirals mean?” one person asks.

“Only about 10,000,” Acerson laughs.

Aaron and Julianna Westberg, who live along West Mountain, said they were shocked a few years ago when they learned that there were petroglyphs located virtually in their backyard.

“I had no idea (there were petroglyphs) on our mountain,” Aaron Westberg said.

After touring the historic sites for the first time, Aaron Westberg said he gained greater respect for the area’s rich history.

“I like to shoot,” he said. “But I also feel like I’m not one that’s going to leave garbage behind when we’re done. But I think a lot of those shooters, they have no idea what these (drawings) mean. I didn’t know. I had no idea. And I think most people that come up here and shoot, if they knew what these rocks meant to people 1,500 years ago, I really think they’d pause and think, ‘You know, let’s shoot over this way, or let’s not shoot there.’”

Aaron Westberg added, “I think there’s always going to be somebody that’s going to say, ‘I don’t care. It doesn’t matter.’ There’s always people that disrespect the environment. But most people do care.”

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UVU acquires 38.7 acres in Payson for future campus expansion

On Tuesday, Utah Valley University announced the acquisition of 38.7 acres of land on the northeast side of the Interstate-15 Payson Main Street interchange for a future satellite campus.

“It is no secret that the south end of Utah County is growing,” said Astrid S. Tuminez, president of UVU. “The acquisition of the Payson land demonstrates UVU’s ongoing commitment to providing exceptional education in affordable and innovative ways in our service area. The campus will incentivize sustainable development, facilitate business and government partnerships, and serve our Utah citizens.”

Payson is an ideal campus site for many reasons, including its proximity to a future FrontRunner station.

In an ideal future it will take less than 30 minutes for students to ride the FrontRunner from Orem to Payson. The Utah Transit Authority plans to build a rail extension and station in Payson in the next decade at an estimated cost of $216 million.

UVU’s master plan places its Utah County satellite campuses near current and future public transportation hubs, making access easier and reducing traffic. It also will benefit from the Utah Department of Transportation’s planned freeway interchange on the north end of Payson.

The site is located northeast of the Payson power plant adjoining south Bamberger Road, and the construction timeline of the campus is still to be determined. UVU will work with local business and community leaders to establish the best educational programming to serve the residents of south Utah County.

“I am extremely excited that UVU is building a campus in Payson,” said Payson Mayor Bill Wright. “I attended UVU’s forerunner trade tech, where I studied aircraft instrument repair, welding and computer science, and later received my emergency medical technician designation there. I have watched it grow from a small technical school to a first-rate college and eventually to a full-scale university. UVU has a stellar reputation, and we welcome it with open arms in Payson.”

Last month, the school announced the acquisition of a 103,000-square-foot building at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, a process that took two years. The building, which is located at 2912 West Executive Parkway, was approved for purchase in March of 2019 for $22.11 million.

The Orem school also has satellite campuses and property in Heber City, the Provo Airport, Vineyard and Capitol Reef Station.

With over 41,728 students, UVU is the largest university in the state of Utah.

Provo Municipal Council passes Class F beer license with compromise

In a late-hour compromise agreement, the Provo Municipal Council voted unanimously to pass a Class F beer license allowing ancillary breweries in Provo — with restrictions.

After months of discussion on the subject of allowing ancillary breweries or brewpubs in the city, the council brought forth an ordinance with additional regulations.

Regulations include: Only 1,500 barrels of beer may be produced a year; only 30% of the total floor space of the brewpub may be used as the ancillary brewery; storing materials outside of the brewpub are limited; and deliveries may not be made on public streets, among other things.

The original ordinance suggested by the council sub-committee allowed for three brewpubs per zone including the DT1, DT2 and SC3 zones. The final decision changed that stipulation to two per zone during the Tuesday work session.

The two DT zones include the core and surrounding area in the downtown area. The SC3 zone would be in regional shopping centers including the Provo Towne Centre, Shops at Riverwoods and The Mix.

Councilman Bill Fillmore proposed a compromise of lowering that to one brewpub per zone, allowing for five in the city.

Fillmore said because the council didn’t know where this “experiment” will go, he would prefer one per zone rather than the proposed two per zone.

“It’s prudent to dip our toe in the water rather than jump in with both feet,” Fillmore said.

Councilman Dave Sewell agreed, “We should start as conservative as possible.”

Councilwoman Shannon Ellsworth said that two per zone was the compromise.

“I don’t think we’ll see ten brewpubs in my lifetime,” Ellsworth said.

“I’m inclined to support that (Fillmore’s proposal),” Council Chairman George Handley said. “We can adjust at a later date and it allows us to move forward today.”

In all previous votes the outcome on ancillary breweries has been 4 to 3. Councilman David Harding, hoping for an agreement Tuesday night, said, “I’m exhausted of 4 to 3 votes. This is good language.”

Harding added that he also would be surprised if there was more than one brewpub in the next decade in Provo.

Ellsworth felt the 30% area limitation was arbitrary and there should be some flexibility, such as if an owner needed 33% area.

Fillmore said he believed lowering to one per zone area is a reasonable compromise.

Sewell said he was appreciative of the compromise. Sewell, Fillmore and Handley were previously the three councilmembers who voted against the brewpubs and new Class F beer license.

The council recognized that a petition for a referendum on the November ballot concerning the brewpubs have collected 1,505 signatures, approximately half of what they need.