Barges could be running across Utah Lake by next summer, sucking up water and filtering out algae to prevent future massive blooms from forming on the lake.
At least, that’s Kevin Shurtleff’s plan.
Shurtleff, an associate professor of chemistry at Utah Valley University, presented his idea for cleaning up Utah Lake during a panel on natural resources and protected area management Wednesday held during UVU’s third annual Sustainability Day.
“Utah Lake is spectacular, and it would be even more spectacular if we can reduce these algal blooms or algal concentration of the lake,” Shurtleff said.
Utah Lake’s algal bloom had traditionally appeared in the fall, but has begun appearing earlier and earlier in the summer for the past three summers. The bloom, which grows, shrinks and reappears throughout the summer in certain parts of the lake, spurs warnings about being in or recreating on the water and has caused periodic closures of parts of the lake, such as the Lindon Marina and Lincoln Beach.
The bloom is caused by high temperatures and an abundance of nutrients in the water. The blue-green algae has the ability to produce cyanotoxins, which can be hazardous to humans and animals.
Shurtleff isn’t looking to change the nutrient makeup of the water, but instead capture algae before a bloom becomes an issue.
He’s tested six different methods of harvesting algae. Four didn’t work and one, which he refers to as a super-sophisticated pool filter, worked well but wouldn’t be able to be a solution in time for next summer.
The sixth technique is a plate and frame filter press that would filter the water similar to how beer is filtered. Shurtleff is working on patenting the process.
Two large filters would be placed on a 30-foot-long and 10-foot-wide barge that would suck up the top two inches of water off the lake’s surface, removing about 90 percent of the algae that’s sucked into the filter.
The barges would charge $3,000 a day to filter the water in specific portions of the lake with higher concentrations of algae.
“It’s not like we have to clean up the algae over the entire lake,” Shurtleff said. “It would be much too big.”
A barge could filter 1,800 gallons of water a minute for 16 hours a day, filtering a total of 1.73 millions gallons of water a day. It would collect 589 kilograms of dry algae a day that pure cellulose (essentially paper) would be added to to convert the algae into biofuel, that could power the barge.
Each barge would cost $250,000. If Shurtleff secures funding, a barge could be built before the spring.
The blooms are larger and have higher concentrations of algae than before, but aren’t a new phenomenon. Shurtleff recalls waterskiing on “green gross water” on the lake 40 years ago.
Eddy Cadet, an associate professor of environmental tech at UVU who also sat on the panel, said pioneers originally chose to colonize in Utah Valley partially because of Utah Lake. But now, he said people are afraid to enter the water.
The earlier, larger and more severe algal blooms are caused by increased nutrients, which is caused by things like runoff water from fertilized gardens and laws.
Cadet said people can help the lake by watching the fertilizers they put on their lawns.
“The more we put, the more runoff water is going to eventually get to that lake and is going to produce that bloom we see every year,” he said.
Before the Orem Wastewater Treatment Plant was constructed in 1958, the city was directly dumping its wastewater into Utah Lake, according to Weihong Wang, an associate professor of geography at UVU who sat on the panel.
“That is why we have so many problems right now with Utah Lake,” Wang said.
She said the Orem Wastewater Treatment Plant discharges 8 million gallons of effluent water a day into Utah Lake.