SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — If you’ve ever ventured out onto one of Utah’s serene lakes or reservoirs, you may have come across a peculiar sight — bright orange buoys that stand out from the typical waterway markers. These aren’t your ordinary markers; they are high-tech tools designed to serve a crucial purpose. Eric Bradshaw, the manager of East Canyon State Park, describes them as resembling diving markers, complete with the vibrant orange color.

But what exactly are these orange buoys doing on Utah’s waters? The answer lies in their mission to collect valuable water quality data and make it accessible for real-time analysis. Their primary focus is to detect early signs of algal blooms, a recurring concern in Utah’s lakes and reservoirs, especially during certain times of the year.

Ben Holcomb, a Water Quality Standard expert, emphasizes the importance of timeliness in their efforts, stating, “Time is of the essence. Once we see conditions deteriorating, we want to be able to communicate that to the public as soon as possible.”

Harmful algal blooms have become a recurring issue in Utah, and Dr. Hannah Bonner from the Utah Division of Water Quality explains that this pattern tends to emerge when temperatures rise, leading to warmer water conditions that are conducive to algal blooms.

The buoys are equipped with sensors that report critical data points such as water temperature, pH levels, and the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water. According to Dr. Bonner, these buoys serve as invaluable tools for obtaining real-time information about harmful algal bloom conditions in water bodies across the state. Instead of relying on once-a-week samples, these buoys provide data every 15 minutes, allowing experts to monitor trends and patterns effectively.

This year, the Division of Water Quality is monitoring five locations with these buoys, strategically placed at Pine View, Scofield, Matt Warner Reservoirs, along with East Canyon and Utah Lake State Parks. Dr. Bonner highlights that understanding harmful algal blooms is not only essential for public safety but also for identifying the causes behind these blooms and implementing preventive measures.

Dr. Bonner also recommends that before heading out for recreational activities, individuals should check water quality conditions, similar to checking the weather forecast. Currently, several water bodies, including Utah Lake, are reporting harmful algal blooms. Being aware of these conditions can help ensure safe and enjoyable experiences on Utah’s beautiful waterways.