Algae bloom in Utah Lake could take years to clean up

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The algae bloom occurs sporadically in the Utah Lake, making it difficult for Utahns to enjoy the lake, especially in the summer time. (Preston Crawley)

The Provo City Council is looking for ways to remove toxic algae from Utah Lake.

In a Provo City Council joint meeting with state legislators on Jan. 12, the council talked about funding and measures they are taking to get rid of the harmful algae in the water.

Rep. Keven Stratton from District 48, chair of the Water and Natural Resources Committees, is proposing a bill that will significantly reduce the population of algae in Utah Lake. “One of the things we’re going to do is propose appropriations in the $750,000 to $1 million that we have so that we can decrease the algae bloom significantly by 90% per year,” he said.

Utah Lake is famous for hosting thousands of visitors during the year, especially in the summertime. There are many different recreational activities that can be enjoyed on the lake including boating, fishing and swimming.

The algal bloom in Utah Lake appears mostly at the end of summer, making it hard for Utahns to enjoy recreational activities at the lake. “The lake’s visitation has been negatively affected by the past several years in which algae blooms have occurred,” said Sam Braegger, outreach coordinator for the Utah Lake Commission.

The specific type of algae that is found in Utah Lake during the algal blooms aren’t just regular, green algae, but toxic algae that contain cyanotoxins.

“There are cyanobacteria that produce cyanotoxins, and these are harmful to people, fish and animals. If you were to drink the water that contains cyanotoxins, it could cause serious problems — it could make you sick, or even kill you in very extreme cases,” said BYU geochemistry professor Gregory Carling.

To combat the algae blooms, the Utah Lake Commission has partnered with Utah’s Division of Water Quality for the Utah Lake Water Quality Study. This is “a research effort to evaluate long-term solutions to nutrient reduction at Utah Lake,” Braegger said. “The bacteria in the algae blooms feed on the nutrients, and the study is focused on deciding if further nutrient reduction is logistically and financially feasible in a long term solution.”

However, while there is research being set in place and a potential bill that could help eliminate the toxic algae, the process itself may take several years.

Phosphorus in the sediment and water acts like a fertilizer, helping the algae to grow. There is so much phosphorus in the sediment that it could take years before it is completely removed or cleaned up.

“Recently they’ve been able to treat the cyanobacteria using different chemicals. It’s a quicker process, but it’s only a short-term fix. The long-term fixes would have to deal with removing the phosphorus and the nutrients that feed the algae,” Carling said.

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