Algal bloom on Utah Lake sends recreators to Wasatch Back |

Algal bloom on Utah Lake sends recreators to Wasatch Back

Jeff Dempsey

The Park Record

An algal bloom of cyanobacteria this month led to the closure of Utah Lake, diverting boaters and other recreators to Wasatch Back bodies of water like Jordanelle and Deer Creek state parks.
Courtesy of Utah Department of Environmental Quality

A large-scale algal bloom forced the closure of Utah Lake earlier this month, and more recently, an eight-mile stretch of the Jordan River. As a result, boaters and other lake recreators who called that body of water home were left wondering what to do. Ty Hunter, boating programs manager with Utah’s Division of Parks and Recreation, said lake-oriented recreation has been greatly affected by the closure.

“Activities are being diverted, and the individuals that are down there at Utah Lake are providing options for other places boaters and other visitors can go,” he said. “A lot of that is pushing recreators either to the Wasatch Back lakes, and also to Yuba State Park.”

Hunter said state park staffers stress to visitors that if they have to go to another park they should call ahead first, because the closure of Utah Lake means unpredictable usage at other bodies of water.

“That’s just the way it is right now,” he said. “If you have to go somewhere else don’t go in blindly. Research and find out what the visitation levels are at. Is it going to be a waste of your time to pull that far and find out that it potentially could be closed because it is full? Those are questions the users need to ask.”

Cyanobacteria, commonly called blue-green algae, is not a unique occurrence. Hunter said blooms are rare — blooms on the scale of what is happening at Utah Lake particularly so — but the algae itself is common.

“It’s found in most of the waters in the state,” he said. “It’s just a matter of having the right environmental factors there to be able to have them bloom and create the situation we have at Utah Lake.”

Jordanelle State Park Manager Laurie Backus said one of those environmental factors — water temperature — means Wasatch Back bodies of water like hers are at an advantage.

“It’s not likely to happen where our water is still pretty cold (around 70 degrees) and we have a lot of water still (87 percent),” she said. “If the weather gets really hot for a long time, it’s possible.”

Backus said Utah Lake’s low water level meant boaters were already being frequently diverted to Jordanelle. That added visitation has been an issue.

“We have gone to closure (which means we run out of parking) for boats about seven times this summer,” she said. “Last year that only happened once.”

Backus said State Parks staff are trying to encourage people to visit Jordanelle during the week rather than the weekends.

“Day use fees are $15 per car on weekends and $10 per car during the week,” she said. “We opened grass areas for individual cars but have not added anything for boats.  We don’t really want to put more boats on the water due to safety and capacity issues.

“Mid-week use is really recommended. It’s a much better experience.”

The busiest times, she added, are between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Deer Creek State Park Manager Dawn Larsen said a lot of the additional traffic there is coming from Utah Lake users, but again, they were showing up due to the low water level at Utah Lake before the algal bloom forced its total closure. She said Deer Creek, too, has been feeling the squeeze.

“Right now we are trying to accommodate everyone who comes to the park, however, for the first time ever on July 4th, every single one of our day use entrances were full to the max and we closed down the park,” she said. “This included a small, unknown area called Charleston, which has never come close to being closed.”

Larsen said Deer Creek is doing the best it can to avoid turning away boaters.

“We are putting more seasonal employees at our gates on Saturday and Sunday. We are parking people in creative ways to fit everyone,” she said. “If we have seasonal or full-time staff free we will send them to the ramp to direct traffic so people can launch their boat faster and, in some cases, we have helped people launch their boats who are having a difficult time.”

Hunter said he has been hearing concern from boaters about the algal bloom and the possibility of transferring it to other lakes. Those worries, he said, are unfounded.

“No, you cannot transfer it and have it bloom in another lake,” he said. “There are so many environmental factors that need to be present at the right levels for a bloom to happen. You need to have a ‘perfect storm’ kind of situation for it to happen. And even then it might only be a small patch of water, 8 feet by 10 feet, and it could bloom on that little patch and die there and be done. It’s so susceptible to so many factors.”

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