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Harmful algal bloom kills dog at Zion National Park

Several roads through Zion National Park to close tonight
Posted at 8:55 PM, Jul 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-11 00:17:30-04

SPRINGDALE, Utah — State environmental officials have identified an algal bloom that apparently killed a dog at Zion National Park, one of Utah's most popular tourist destinations.

Utah's Department of Environmental Quality announced on Friday night that testing results came back and linked the dog's death to a Harmful Algal Bloom. It was discovered in the North Fork of the Virgin River on July 4.

The dog died an hour after swimming in the water after "snapping" at algae on the rocks, said Jared Mendenhall, a spokesman for Utah's DEQ. Water samples showed anatoxin.

"They don't want to swim in that area. They want to avoid the areas with algae scum, most importantly keep animals away from the water and not drink the water from the river even water that's been passed through a filter," Mendenhall told FOX 13 on Friday night.

Mendenhall said signs are being posted in Zion National Park warning people to not swim in the water and keep their pets out of the water. DEQ told people to follow these guidelines:

  • Do not swim in this area.
  • Avoid areas of algae scum.
  • Keep animals away.
  • Do not drink the river water (including water passed through a purifier).
  • Clean fish well and discard guts.

This warning does not apply to Quail Creek Reservoir, Sand Hollow Reservoir, or the Santa Clara River basin.

"We're going to continue to take samples," Mendenhall said.

The state is also working with local communities to ensure drinking water is safe. The towns of Virgin, Rockville and those from Zion National Park are not using the North Fork of the Virgin River as a water source. Utah's Department of Agriculture and Food is also urging farmers and ranchers in the area to avoid using it as a water source for livestock for now.

"We want to make sure people are safe as they go down there and avoid getting in the water and most importantly, you keep pets away from that water," Mendenhall said.

Harmful Algal Blooms (also known as HABs) have become an increasing problem in Utah's waterways. They naturally occur, but are also spawned as a result of pollutants in the water and climate change, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They can kill animals and make humans seriously ill (in some cases, they have been documented to kill humans) and can threaten drinking water supplies.

An algal bloom at Zion National Park presents a concern for tourists and represents one of the most high-profile sites. Each year, Utah's DEQ identifies them and issues warnings to people when they are found in frequently visited water bodies including Utah Lake, Pineview Reservoir and Yuba Lake.

In years past, the state has devoted resources to monitoring for them, posting warnings and environmental mitigation. However, because of COVID-19 budget cuts imposed by the legislature, the DEQ was unable to monitor them extensively. Recently, 18 sites were able to be monitored because of federal funding grants from the Environmental Protection Agency.