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Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Health officials shut down Utah Lake over algal bloom concerns

By Carter Williams  |  Posted Jul 15th, 2016 @ 11:10pm


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PROVO — Scot Chipman has spent plenty of time on Utah Lake, but he said his venture out on the lake Tuesday was nothing like he's ever seen before.

"I've seen a lot of thick green algae over the last 30-plus years out on that lake, but nothing like what I saw on Tuesday," said Chipman, who is president of the Utah Water Ski Club. "Tuesday was still really thick algae, but it had that blue tint to it and it smelled horrid ... (it was a) completely different type of bloom that I've ever seen."

Health officials began noticing the algae too, and after further testing throughout the week, decided to close Utah Lake Friday due to the large potentially hazardous algal bloom patch covering the majority of the lake water.

The closure is effective immediately, Utah County Health Department executive health director Ralph Clegg said in a statement. Clegg added that the lake will reopen once is it safe for recreation.

Utah Lake State Park manager Jason Allen told KSL that no timetable is certain for when the lake would reopen. He said he believes that it would take weather activity to have that happen, which is not in the immediate forecast for the area.

"We're going to need strong winds and some good weather activity to turn up and clean up the water," he said.

High counts of cyanobacteria, which produces potentially life-threatening toxins, were found in the water samples taken from Provo Marina and in open water, Utah Department of Environment Quality communication director Donna Spangler said.

The level of algae found was three times the threshold allowed to keep the lake open, Spangler said.

Any fish taken from the lake since Sunday should not be consumed, Spangler added. Fishing in the river areas near the lake is also not recommended.

In addition, the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food advised farmers and ranchers to avoid using water from the lake for farm production until lab results are available next week. The UDAF advised those farmers to use other water sources for their livestock and crops if possible due to the toxic algae affecting the water.

A carp removal fisherman pilots a boat out of the harbor at Utah Lake State Park in Provo on Friday, July 15, 2016. (Photo: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

Frequent recreational users of the lake like Chipman noticed the problem quickly.

Chipman grabbed a time lapse of the algal bloom making its way into Provo Harbor. The video shows the rapid growth of the algae over one afternoon.

"That time lapse is nothing compared to what is out on the main lake," Chipman said. "That's what made it into the harbor when the winds shifted."

Multiple environmental agencies began testing the water Wednesday after a large patch of the algae was spotted via satellite images on Monday. Test results confirmed the existence of toxins in the water, the DEQ announced on Thursday.

Satellite images taken on Tuesday showed the algal bloom covered nearly 90 percent of the lake either on the surface or subsurface of the water, according to Spangler.

Chipman said he didn't notice a problem with the algae on Sunday when he was out on the lake, but on Tuesday patches were visible all over Utah Lake. He said he had never seen algae of that level of magnitude before, and that quickly.

"It appeared essentially within a day," he said. "I was down there Sunday and there was no sign of it at all. My friends down there on Monday didn't see anything. Tuesday, I went down there and it was everywhere. It exploded when it happened."

Utah Lake was closed down until further notice on Friday after the discovery of potentially harmful algal bloom. (Photo: Utah Department of Environmental Quality)

The problem with the algal bloom is the toxins it carries.

“These types of algae release neurotoxins and hepatotoxins, that can affect brain, nervous system and liver function,” said Dr. Joseph Miner, executive director of the Utah Department of Health.

Those who may have been exposed or have questions about possibly having had contact with the algae in the lake are urged to seek their physician or call Utah Poison Control at 800-222-1222.

Those who may have concerns about animal exposure should contact their veterinarian or the Utah Department of Agriculture at 801-538-7100.

More information will be added when it becomes available.

Contributing: Dave Cawley, Kelsey Witt

Contributing: Andrew Adams

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