UTAH COUNTY — Algal blooms have slimed the water on Utah Lake and dozens of other bodies of water across Utah in each of the last five years. Right now, boaters and other people who play in the water are on their own for spotting the toxic blooms.
Due to budget cuts related to COVID-19, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality cannot fund the teams that used to warn people about algal blooms.
Kavika Fonua was out fishing along the shore with his cousins Thursday on Utah Lake, and remembered when access was closed due to algal blooms last year.
“They have signs to keep us aware. But, I haven’t really seen any right now,” he said, referring to the algal blooms, which were nowhere in sight along the shore Thursday.
Each of the last five years, the DEQ warned Utahns when algal blooms flourished. But the public will not get those warnings this year.
“The assumption, of course, is that they’re going to be back this summer,” said Jared Mendenhall, Utah DEQ spokesperson.
When the DEQ monitored the blooms, they posted real-time data and put up public warnings. Some state parks have permanent warning signs, but, people will have to make decisions about algal blooms on their own.
Last year, the Utah DEQ identified harmful algal blooms in more than 40 bodies of water across the state. Thirty-eight of those reached the level of public health warnings. Some of those bodies of water were even closed, and there were 40 calls to the Utah poison control center for issues related to the toxins cyanobacteria in the harmful algal bloom last year.
“None of that monitoring is taking place,” said Mendenhall. “We are not aware of what’s going on with scientific certainty if there are harmful algal blooms, or not. That’s why residents do need to take those precautions to ensure that they are not exposing themselves to harmful algal blooms, and they are protecting their health.”
Algal blooms appear bright green, like an oily sheen on the water. They can develop in a few hours, and move.
“These are ripe conditions for algal blooms,” said Mendenhall. “We had that rain come in that washed additional nutrients into the water, and now we have the sun out, and that cyanobacteria, it’s like a plant it’s growing right now.”
Stay away and keep your pets away, too. If you get too close, you could be affected by rashes, headaches, nausea and intestinal issues.
Fonua said he would never cast his line into slimy water and thinks people fishing would warn each other.
“Once someone sees it, they’ll make sure to tell somebody,” he said.
If you think you have been exposed to a harmful algal bloom, and you’re displaying symptoms, contact your doctor or the Utah Poison Control Center.