UTAH COUNTY, Utah (ABC 4 Utah) – A new species of cyanobacteria has turned up at Utah Lake. This, the same week scientists are launching a new project to help prevent future algae outbreaks.
When it comes to this summer’s toxic algal bloom, experts say one of the biggest contributing problems was limited data.
“We may come out here four times a year, and that’s not good enough in today’s standards,” said Ben Holcomb, a program coordinator within the Utah Dept. of Environmental Quality.
But Holcom’s agency is trying to change that, and officials say the first step in making sure algae issues do not continue muddying the waters for Utahns going forward is understanding exactly what caused the widespread cyanobacteria outbreak in the first place.
That is where scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey come in. Using brand new technology, they are collecting samples across Utah Lake as well as the Great Salt Lake this week, to get a better look at the nutrients feeding the algae.
“We have a sampling device that collects water from below the boat and runs it through a flow-through chamber — kind of like a bucket — and we’re able to sample the water continuously as it’s flowing past,” said U.S. Geological Survey Hydrologist, Christopher L. Shope.
While this summer’s outbreak seems to be subsiding, Utah bodies of water are not in the clear yet. Just this week, officials found a new species of algae called ‘benthic’ cyanobacteria growing at Utah Lake.
“Our early research shows that this one isn’t as likely to be as harmful as the other ones we were seeing earlier,” Holcom explained.
Meanwhile, DEQ officials are optimizing technologies available to them — permanent censors also able to track nutrients. Three areas of Utah Lake already have censors installed underneath docks.
“We can hook our laptop up to this, download the data…” Holcom showed Good 4 Utah’s Ali Monsen.
But three much more advanced censors are in the works as well. Officials say those will send real time digital data to a server for the public to monitor at any time.
“That being said, it’s going to take a long time to fix the problem too, because it’s taken us this long to get to this point,” Holcomb said.
Other factors like water level, temperature, and harmful runoff still need to be addressed, but officials say gathering accurate data is a good first step toward a better future.
The DEQ plans on installing the rest of those high-tech censors over the next couple weeks.
Officials say technology is slowly becoming more affordable, which allows them to do projects like this.