PROVO (ABC4 News) – Brigham Young University researchers are studying the ways our major wildfires last year are impacting snow melt and the algae bloom in Utah Lake. We generally think of the algae bloom being contained to the lake, but the science actually starts way up in our mountain streams and this year they are over-flowing.
Ben Abbott and his team of BYU student researchers have been funded by the Department of Wildlife Resources to study how the burn scars impact our water over the next five years.
Abbot explained, “It’s really complicated. Last year we had the driest year on record, this year we have over 150% of the runoff in a long term average, so you can’t answer the question in one year.”
Satellite images show ash flooding into the lake which might sound like a bad thing, but actually, ash is very nutrient rich.
Abbott said, “You burn off a lot of that carbon, but you still have nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium. But the combustion itself can change those nutrients.”
Dr. Abbott said that wildfires can be a vital and cleansing part of an ecosystem like this one; the unknown here is the size of the fire.
He said, “This fire was so big that instead of burning one patch in the ecosystem it took out whole swaths of the landscape, so we don’t know how fish are going to re-colonize those sections.”
At this point in the research, the team discovered the algae bloom came later and looks like it will be gone faster because of the amount of water, and because it’s being choked by the ash. Dr. Abbott says the ash is not toxic. You can go out and recreate on Utah Lake, you can even catch the fish in there, you don’t need to worry about exposure to the ash.
Fire footage provided by Jeremiah Rodriguez.