The Utah County Health Department announced Friday that it had resumed monitoring of toxic algal blooms at Utah Lake after temporarily pausing monitoring in June due to “state budget uncertainty” and issued a warning advisory for parts of the lake.
Funding for the monitoring of harmful algal blooms, or HABs, came from a $104,000 grant from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to a press release from the Utah County Health Department. Utah Lake is one of more than a dozen water bodies throughout the state that will be monitored.
“Due to state budget cuts, the harmful algal bloom program is being funded by EPA through a one-time grant,” the Utah Department of Water Quality (DWQ) stated on its website. “This limits DWQ’s monitoring to 18 priority waterbodies in Utah.”
The Utah County Health Department issued a warning advisory for the American Fork and Lindon marinas after sample results collected by the DWQ on July 6 “showed microcystin levels exceeding the recreational health-based threshold” for issuing such an advisory.
The sample, which was collected in the open water between the two marinas, showed microcystin levels at 25.4 micrograms per liter, according to the DWQ.
Warning advisories indicate “moderate relative probability of acute health risk” and are issued when microcystin levels reach between 8 and 2,000 micrograms per liter, or when anatoxin-a levels are greater than 15 micrograms per liter.
The July 6 sample between the American Fork and Lindon marinas showed a safe concentration of anatoxin-a, less than 1.5 micrograms per liter.
Another “water-column bloom” was observed by a DWR monitoring team at Sandy Beach, but the Utah County Health Department did not issue a warning advisory for this area of the lake.
Jared Mendenhall, spokesman of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), said that the state has “just been dealing with a load of issues around algal blooms” this summer.
“The concern that you have with the cyanobacteria is that, at a certain stage in its life cycle, it can start producing nervous system and liver toxins,” Mendenhall said in an interview Monday. “And those can really create some complicated health issues.”
The health effects of exposure to cyanobacteria include headaches, nausea, rashes and gastric distress, according to Mendhall.
Mendenhall confirmed that the algal bloom found between the American Fork and Lindon marinas was “toxin-producing” but said the lake would remain open for fishing, boating and other recreational activities.
“So right now Utah Lake is open, and what they’re asking people to do is to avoid those areas where they know that the bloom is taking place,” he said, adding that warning signs had been placed around the lake.
The EPA issued the $104,000 grant after the Utah State Legislature cut $250,000 in state funding for algal bloom monitoring as part of widespread budget cuts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Mendenhall.
Other water bodies that health officials will monitor for HABs include “popular recreation spots” like Deer Creek Reservoir, Scofield Reservoir, Otter Creek Reservoir, Pineview Reservoir and Yuba Lake.
On July 4, a dog died an hour after swimming in the north fork of the Virgin River in Zion National Park and exhibiting “symptoms consistent with possible exposure to cyanobacteria toxins,” according to a DEQ press release.
Results from water samples showed an anatoxin-a concreation greater than 55 micrograms per liter, far beyond the 15 micrograms per liter public recreation threshold.
Mendenhall noted that the toxin levels at Utah Lake were “not at anywhere near the levels as this thing is down in Zion” and said recreators can stay safe by showering after being in the lake and washing their hands before handling food.
For regular updates on HAB monitoring at Utah Lake and other water bodies, visit http://habs.utah.gov.