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Algal blooms prompt warnings to stay out of Payson's Big East Lake


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PAYSON — Officials are warning people and pets to stay out of Big East Lake, one of the largest and most popular of the Payson lakes.

Samples collected by Utah County Health Department officials on July 28 showed cell counts significantly over the World Health Organization's "dangerous" human risk threshold of 10 million cells per milliliter, health officials announced Wednesday.

“There is a health risk,” Ralph Clegg, executive director of the Utah County Health Department, said in the statement. “People should stay out of the water and keep their pets and livestock away from the water.”

The news comes one day after officials reopened Utah Lake after tests last month revealed toxic algae levels three times higher than safe levels.

The director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality's Division of Water Quality said high levels of phosphorous and other nutrients from wastewater sewage treatment plants in the area contributed to the problem.

The city of Payson has stopped drawing water from Big East Lake for its pressurized irrigation system and is instead using water from Strawberry Reservoir, Spring Lake and other wells and springs, according to Payson City Manager David Tuckett.

Officials said residents should have "no concerns" about using the pressured irrigation system. Those who wish to take additional precautions can run their sprinklers at night between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. to avoid exposure to the spray, they said. Officials also recommended that parents keep young children away from sprinklers.

Not all algal growth is harmful. But some growth contain cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae. If ingested, toxins in the bacteria can cause headaches, fever, diarrhea and vomiting, and can be fatal to humans and animals.

Ben Holcomb, coordinator of the Division of Water Quality's harmful algal bloom program, said hot temperatures, sun exposure, calm water and elevated levels of nutrients created the right conditions for the bloom at Big East Lake.

This isn't the first time this has happened, he noted: Last year, Big East Lake was closed for a month due to toxic blooms.

Workers are collecting additional samples and posting warning signs. Other area lakes are also being sampled and tested.

Officials also advised anglers to clean fish well and discard fish guts.

People who believe they may have been exposed to harmful concentrations of algae should call the Utah Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222 or their physician. Affected animals should be evaluated by a veterinarian.

Concerned Payson residents can call the city offices at 801-465-5200.

Daphne Chen


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