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Harmful algal blooms popping up earlier and at higher elevations in Utah

Posted at 9:30 PM, Jul 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-28 23:30:36-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Cyanotoxins are being found in bodies of water in Utah earlier this year than previous seasons. According to Utah Department of Environmental Quality, the current drought is partially to blame.

“Normally we don’t see harmful algal blooms at this magnitude and frequency until we hit August or maybe September,” said Dr. Kate Fickas, Recreational Health Advisory Program Coordinator with Utah DEQ. “We have a lot of lakes this year that we’ve seen starting to bloom early.”

Due to low water levels from the drought along with warm water and air temperatures, harmful algal blooms are popping up earlier and at higher elevations.

READ - All of Utah Lake placed under harmful algal bloom warning

“With climate change increasing and this drought that were having in Utah that’s no longer the case, we see harmful algal blooms at high elevation lakes, we’ve seen some on Mirror Lake Highway for example,” said Dr. Fickas.

DEQ and partnering agencies monitor roughly 40 bodies of water at ‘high frequency’ throughout the year. For those they don’t water in-person, they can assess via satellite. However, if you’re visiting a body of water that isn’t frequently monitored by DEQ and there isn’t any public data, you should assess the water before going in.

READ - All of Utah now under worst drought categories

“The things you’re looking for are maybe pea soup, lime green water, sometimes it looks like someone’s taken a lawn mower bag and those clippings are dumped straight into the water, it looks like grass clippings,” advises Dr. Fickas. “Here in Utah they (blooms) produce a neurotoxin and a liver toxin so especially for children, pets and those of who are sensitive these can be really dangerous and with pets especially it could mean death within 20 minutes to an hour after ingesting these types of toxins.”

To learn more about the warning signs before going in the water, visit the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s Harmful Algal Blooms (HABS) website.