US Agency Studies How to Detect Algae Bloom Outbreaks

BRADY MCCOMBS, Associated Press ABC News 13 Aug 16;

Scientists spent this week studying how nutrient levels contribute to algae blooms on the heels of this summer's massive outbreak that closed Utah Lake, sickened people and left farmers scrambling for clean water during some of the hottest days of the year.

The goal of the study on the waters of Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake is to determine how to predict outbreaks before they happen, said Christopher Shope, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Utah.

That would allow state and county officials to be able to warn boaters, swimmers and farmers ahead of time, he said. The federal agency conducted the study.

Toxic algae is a problem around the U.S. An enormous outbreak in Florida this year fouled beaches on the Atlantic coast, and a 2014 outbreak at Lake Erie left more than 400,000 people in the Toledo, Ohio, area without tap water for two days.

This study is an experimental "proof of concept" project designed to show longer-term research is worth the financial investment, Shope said. Currently, state officials monitor water bodies for algae on a limited basis because equipment is expensive, and monitoring and analyzing are time-consuming.

U.S. Geological Survey teams used one set of equipment to collect data at each lake — in the Great Salt Lake's Gilbert Bay and throughout Utah Lake. A larger study of Utah Lake, for instance, would require five sets of monitoring equipment that cost $150,000 each and an additional $50,000 annually to operate.

The study aims to hone in on which nutrients are causing the algae. Researchers will look at wastewater treatment plants and agriculture operations, among other things, Shope said.

The study was launched after this summer's bloom that covered large parts of the 150-square-mile Utah Lake and left about 100 people with symptoms such as vomiting, headache and rashes.

The bacteria commonly known as blue-green algae spread rapidly, turning the water bright, antifreeze green with a pea soup texture and leaving scummy foam along the shore. The lake was reopened after the algae dissipated at most locations.

Ben Holcomb of Utah's Division of Water Quality said his team is grateful for the U.S. Geological Survey's assistance.

"It really helps us fill in those gaps across the lake," said Holcomb, the biological assessment program coordinator.

He said he's unaware of any way to get rid of the bloom in huge bodies of water with protected wildlife. But he said being able to closely monitor water readings in real time would give officials a tremendous tool.

"We would be able to get the word out quicker to perhaps keep people off the lake," Holcomb said. "The amount of data limits our ability to make good, quick decisions."

Toxic algal bloom spurs warnings at Big East Lake in Utah County
MARIAH NOBLE The Salt Lake Tribune 3 Aug 16;

Despite opening Utah Lake for swimming Tuesday, the Utah County Health Department had issued a warning against water activities in Big East Lake in Payson Canyon after a toxin from an algal bloom contaminated the water.

The toxin, cyanobacteria, is considered dangerous at a frequency of 10 million cells per milliliter, according to the World Health Organization, but samples taken Thursday from Big East Lake had 45.6 million cells per mL — more than four times the concentration considered dangerous — a Utah Department of Environmental Quality news release said.

The specific species of cyanobacteria found in the lake is Gloeotrichia echinulata, which can cause gastrointestinal problems and skin rashes, the release said. Another cyanobacteria genus, Microcystis, was also found in the sample, but at "extremely low levels."

The health department announced it would post warning signs at the lake Wednesday, advising people to stay out of the water. Patrons are specifically asked to avoid swimming, boating and water skiing in areas with scum, and to avoid drinking lake water or allowing pets and livestock near the water, the release said. Health officials also advised anglers to "clean their fish well with nonlake water and discard the guts responsibly."

Last summer, several types of cyanobacteria forced the closure of Payson lakes, the release said.

County crews were collecting more samples Wednesday to conduct preliminary screening tests, the release said, to determine whether it was necessary to submit samples to a lab for more detailed toxin analysis.

Payson City stopped drawing water from the lake for its pressurized irrigation system and instead used water from Strawberry Reservoir, Spring Lake and wells and springs, the release said.

Though there is no reason for concern from residents, anyone interested in taking additional precautions, officials suggested running sprinklers after 10 p.m. and before 6 a.m. to avoid any exposure to the spray.

Children should avoid playing in the sprinklers, the release said, and concerned parties may contact the city offices at 801-465-5200 for more information.

Exposure to cyanotoxins, the toxins produced by cyanobacteria, may lead to headache, fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and skin rash, the release said. People concerned about possible exposure are asked to call the Utah Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222 or a physician. Anyone concerned about possible pet or animal exposure to animals should contact a veterinarian.

Toxic Algae Bloom Closes Utah Lake, Contaminates Water for Farms
More than 100 people ill; lake is one of largest freshwater bodies west of Mississippi River
Associated Press Wall Street Journal 22 Jul 16;

SPANISH FORK, Utah—A huge toxic algae bloom in Utah has closed one of the largest freshwater lakes west of the Mississippi River, sickening more than 100 people and leaving farmers scrambling for clean water during some of the hottest days of the year.

The bacteria commonly known as blue-green algae has spread rapidly to cover almost all of the 150-square-mile Utah Lake, turning the water bright green with a pea-soup texture and leaving scummy foam along the shore.

“It smells like something is rotting,” said Jason Garrett, water quality director for the Utah County Health Department. “We don’t have an idea of how long this event will last.”

Toxic algae is a problem around the country. An enormous outbreak in Florida is now fouling beaches on the Atlantic coast, and a 2014 outbreak at Lake Erie left more than 400,000 people in the Toledo area without tap water for two days.

Utah Lake doesn’t provide drinking water, but its closure is causing problems for people who use the lake for swimming, fishing and other recreational activities and for farmers with thirsty crops.

Utah Poison Control said it has fielded hundreds of calls related to the bloom, including some 130 involving people who have reported vomiting, diarrhea, headache and rashes.

The contamination has now spread to the Jordan River, which supplies irrigation to dozens of farmers around Salt Lake City, about 45 miles north of the lake. The problem has occurred amid days of triple-digit temperatures as growers prepare for farmers markets and try to nurture crops such as corn and fruit trees at key points in their development.

“We’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on this crop, maxed out every dollar we have,” said Luke Petersen, who farms about 100 acres of tomatoes, summer squash and other produce in Riverton. “We’re real worried about it.”

The lake is largely fed by treated wastewater as well as agricultural runoff, said Erica Gaddis, assistant director for the Utah Division of Water Quality.

Longstanding drought conditions have made the water stagnant. Combine that with hot summer weather, and Utah Lake became a perfect petri dish for the cyanobacteria.

There are chemical and biological treatments for the problem, but using them on such a large bloom would be unprecedented and possibly harmful, Ms. Gaddis said.

For now, authorities are waiting for the bloom to run its course.

To stave off new blooms in coming years, the state is looking to reduce the levels of toxic algae-feeding phosphorous and nitrogen in wastewater that is pumped into the lake.