BOX ELDER COUNTY, Utah (ABC4) – Parts of Utah saw impressive rains over the weekend and while they were sure welcome, they won’t do much to improve drought conditions. Water reserves are low across the state and it’s not just the reserves that are suffering. The water quality may be taking a hit as well. A health watch is now in place for Willard Bay State Park in response to an algal bloom.  

At Willard Bay State Park in Box Elder County, the current water level sits around 40 percent of capacity. Due to the low water level, boat launching ramps are officially closed, though boaters may still launch at their own risk. As the water level drops, the temperature can rise. On Monday afternoon, that temperature was around 75 degrees. Warm water may be great for swimmers, but it’s also great for algae.   

“What we’re concerned about is that it is a toxin producing algae, and so that it could be harmful to human or animal health,” Dr. Hannah Bonner told ABC4. Dr. Bonner is the environmental scientist and Recreational Health Advisory Program Coordinator for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.  

Bonner explained that algal blooms are not uncommon to see in different bodies of water around Utah. However, this particular bloom, at Willard Bay, has her attention.   

“If this is confirmed as a toxin producing, harmful algal bloom, this will be the first one we’ve at Willard Bay or on Willard Pond,” Dr. Bonner stated.   

Dr. Bonner told ABC4 that her program was established in 2016. She explained that normally, Willard Bay is too cold for algae to thrive and is one of the reasons toxin-producing algal blooms haven’t been recorded in the reservoir before.   

“That also shows how warmer, hotter summers and ongoing drought are potentially making these harmful algal blooms worse and bringing them to water bodies that we haven’t seen them at before,” she added.  

The National Weather Service reported from July 1t through August 6th, Salt Lake City has seen less than 7 inches of rain. According to NWS, for that particular time period, it is the 15th driest on record.    

Even though the weekend saw welcome storms, “it really doesn’t fill up our reservoirs.” Candice Hasenyager is the Utah Division of Water Resources Director. She told ABC4 that any rain is welcome. Especially because summer rain helps lawns.

However, summer rains normally don’t improve Utah’s reservoir water levels. The really important precipitation comes during the winter. “We get the snow in the wintertime, it stays up in our mountains and in the springtime when it warms up, it seeps into the ground, and it melts, and it seeps into the ground and then it goes into our reservoirs,” stated Hasenyager. She also said Utah will need multiple years of above-average snow to improve drought conditions.  

While algae samples are being tested out of Willard Bay (and potentially other Utah bodies of water near you), people should not go in the water. Dr. Hannah Bonner said it’s especially important to keep children and pets away from the water because they are more likely to swallow it than an adult. She added, “It’s ingestion, getting this algal material inside you, that is what can produce really serious illness.”  

Currently, more than one dozen bodies of water have a health watch or an advisory warning in place. Dr. Bonner encouraged recreators to check the water conditions online before heading out. Test results for the Willard Bay algal bloom are expected within the week. Click here for up-to-date information. The real-time map of all potential algal blooms can be found by clicking here. Utah DEQ also posts educational information about algal blooms, and other topics, on its Instagram.