SALT LAKE CITY — A harmful algal bloom has infected an urban pond in Weber County, the latest water body in Utah to become a pool of potentially toxic scum.
The Utah Department of Environmental Quality collected additional samples from the 21st Street Pond on Monday after the outbreak was confirmed last week.
Erica Gaddis, director of the Utah Division of Water Quality, said the Ogden pond is the fifth infected body of water in the state. Other areas impacted include Mantua Reservoir in Box Elder County, Warner Lake near Vernal, Blackridge Reservoir in Herriman, and Utah Lake, where lawmakers are scheduled to take a tour on Wednesday.
Members of the state Water Development Commission and the Utah Legislature's Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee will first get a briefing on the issue at the Timpanogos Special Service District in American Fork, which provides waste water collection and treatment for cities in northern Utah County.
Afterward, they will tour Utah Lake by boat in an event organized by the Wasatch Front Water Quality Council — a coalition of public wastewater treatment facilities.
Harmful algal blooms are a byproduct of excess nutrients of phosphorus and nitrogen in the water, and one source of those nutrients are wastewater discharges. Nutrient pollution can also be caused by urban runoff and agricultural activities.
Eight wastewater plants discharge into Utah Lake, according to the Utah Division of Water Quality, and the plants are responsible for approximately 76 percent of the phosphorus loading at the lake, while agriculture and urban runoff contribute the rest.
The division developed a technology-based standard for phosphorus that will apply to wastewater treatment plants in 2020. Regulators say the upgrades will cost 34 plants about $114 million across the state, and while the outbreak of algal blooms may be reduced, they won't be eliminated altogether.
Division of Water Quality Director Erica Gaddis will be one of the presenters at the Wednesday meeting prior to the tours.
"Really what we are wanting to do is educate the Legislature about the role of wastewater infrastructure in planning for growth in the state," Gaddis said.
The division is one of multiple entities on a newly formed steering committee involved in the launch of a multimillion dollar Utah Lake study.
The effort, which includes representatives from the Utah Lake Commission, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Utah County Stormwater Association, and local health department and wastewater treatment plants, is being partially funded by a $1 million grant from the Utah Division of Water Resources board.
Gaddis said a major thrust of the study will be to determine what level of nutrient reduction will produce measurable benefits to Utah Lake.
This summer's algal bloom shows no sign of dissipating, and warnings remain in effect for the public to avoid direct contact with the water. Exposure to the toxins can impact liver and nerve function, and cause respiratory problems. Severe exposure to the cyanobacteria can lead to death for both people and animals.
In 2014, cattle were sickened and killed after ingesting water from Warner Lake, and a dog died that same year after swimming at Utah Lake.
Last year, hundreds of people called the Utah Poison Control Center — which continues to field calls in the outbreak — and dozens reported symptoms of exposure to an unprecedented bloom that covered 90 percent of the lake's surface.
The proliferation of blue-green algae is caused by excess nutrients, hot temperatures and a stagnant weather pattern.
Gaddis said the wind is shifting the bloom somewhat at Utah Lake, but it has not abated.
"The hot, calm conditions are really ripe for algal blooms," she said. "The longer we have a warm summer and fall, the higher chance the blooms will persist."
In 2014, the algal bloom at Utah Lake began in October due to mild conditions, Gaddis noted.
Michela Gladwell, director of environmental health at the Weber-Morgan Health Department, said warning signs have been posted at the urban pond west of downtown Ogden urging visitors to exercise caution.
The pond is leased to a private water skiing company, but people also walk a pathway around the water, kayak and fish at the pond.
"We're just trying to be proactive and tell people to be careful," Gladwell said.