Harmful algal blooms (HABs) have been in the news a lot lately, from the massive scum lining the Florida coast to the blue-green mats that recently covered Utah Lake and forced its closure. Predicting when these blooms will occur is one of the greatest challenges faced by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Water Quality (DWQ). The agency is hoping to change that.
This week, DWQ teamed with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Utah Water Science Center to try out new technologies designed to help agency scientists identify and predict harmful algal blooms. USGS field crews visited the Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake to test drive a full suite of real-time monitoring equipment. DWQ is also in the process of installing a network of high-frequency water-quality sensors in Utah Lake and other high-risk waterbodies. Both of these efforts will improve DWQ’s ability to track the water-quality conditions that lead to algal growth, predict blooms, and respond quickly to HAB events.
DWQ’s experiences with algal blooms this summer underscore the need to find and apply new data-collection methods. The information collected through the USGS real-time monitoring, combined with DWQ’s deployment of several new, high-frequency sondes at high-risk waterbodies across the state, will not only help the agency predict algal blooms and be more timely in its response, it will help DWQ develop site-specific standards that address the location, distribution, and load of the nutrient sources that lead to HABs.
For more information, please contact Donna Spangler of the Utah DEQ.