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article imageOp-Ed: U.S. agency begins 'proof of concept' experiment on algae blooms

By Karen Graham     Aug 14, 2016 in Environment
Provo - U.S. Geological Survey scientists spent last week studying how nutrients contribute to algae blooms in two major lakes in Utah. The study follows a massive algae bloom that closed Utah Lake a few weeks ago.
Christopher Shope, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Utah, says the study is more like an experimental "proof of concept" project that the agency hopes will show that long-term research is worth the investment, according to the Record-Eagle.
So the agency is focusing the study on discovering a way to predict outbreaks before they happen. This would give state and county officials time to warn boaters, swimmers and farmers before the outbreak begins. Currently, bodies of water in Utah are monitored on a limited basis because the cost of the equipment is too expensive and doing the analysis is time-consuming.
Toxic algae blooms have become a major environmental problem, not only in the United States but around the world. One of the largest algae blooms occurred in 2014 on Lake Erie, leaving over 400,000 people in the Toledo, Ohio, area without drinking water for two days.
This year, Florida's beaches and inlets on the Atlantic Coast were fouled by an enormous algae bloom, and just a few weeks ago, Utah Lake, one of the largest freshwater lakes west of the Mississippi River was closed because of an enormous algae bloom that sickened over 100 people and forced farmers who used the lake's water for irrigation to search for water elsewhere.
According to Shope, the team used one set of equipment to collect data at the two lakes. But he says that to do a larger study of Utah Lake would require the use of five pieces of equipment, costing $150,000 each and an additional $50,000 annually to operate, reports CTV News.
Harmful algae blooms (HAB) in Utah Lake
The team wants to hone in on what nutrients are responsible for the harmful algae blooms (HAB), and will be looking at wastewater treatment plants and agricultural practices. The causative agents in HABs are a type of bacteria that receive their energy through photosynthesis. They are called Cyanobacteria and are often called blue-green algae.
More than 100 people fall ill thanks to toxic algae bloom covering nine tenths of Utah lake that has...
More than 100 people fall ill thanks to toxic algae bloom covering nine tenths of Utah lake that has turned water bright green.
The freshwater HABs are usually the result of an excess of nutrients, nitrogen, phosphates and carbon. Of major concern is the phosphates. They are found in fertilizers applied to land for farming and are also found in many home cleaning products. Excess amounts of carbon and nitrogen are also harmful. As a matter of fact, residual sodium carbonate acts as a catalyst for the algae to bloom by providing dissolved carbon dioxide that hastens photosynthesis.
But we also know a lot about the environmental conditions already at work in Utah Lake, and it doesn't cost $150,000 worth of equipment. In the first place, Utah Lake is shallow, with an average depth of only 10.5 feet. With only one river outlet, evaporation accounts for 42 percent of its outflow, leaving the lake slightly saline.
Perhaps more importantly, up until 1967, raw sewage was still being pumped into Utah Lake. We also know for a fact that Utah Lake was placed on the state's 2000 and 2004 303d list for phosphorus and total dissolved solids (TDS) exceeding recommend values, based on the federal Clean Water Act.
Microcystis algae grow in a large bloom in the Copco Reservoir on the Klamath River  posing health r...
Microcystis algae grow in a large bloom in the Copco Reservoir on the Klamath River, posing health risks to people, pets and wildlife.
University of Oregon
In 2010, Krissy Wilson of Utah's Division of Wildlife Resources stated that Utah Lake's water quality was better because of greater water flow that had contributed to the improvement. However, the presence and activity of carp, which keep the sediments stirred up, doesn't help the overall picture.
Carp were introduced into the lake in 1883 after local fish populations were nearly depleted. Now, carp make up 90 percent of the fish found in the lake. Averaging 5.3 pounds, the adult population is estimated to be around 7.5 million.
One last added problem is the heat wave being experienced in the region. At the time when the harmful algae bloom was at its worst, the southwestern region of the country was experiencing record hot temperatures and drought-like conditions, perfect for an algae bloom.
The bigger question surrounding the algae problem in Utah Lake is when were officials going to start cleaning the lake up? Everyone knows what the problem is, and that is half the battle.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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