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.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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