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East Canyon Reservoir has early – and potentially hazardous – algal bloom

Sep 14, 2023 11:25AM ● By Braden Nelsen

An example of what one type of algal bloom can look like. Courtesy photo

EAST CANYON RESERVOIR—A popular site for recreation in Northeastern Utah, East Canyon Reservoir has reported a very unwelcome development: a Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB). But what is an algal bloom and why is it something that recreators should avoid?

Dr. Hannah Bonner, program coordinator for the Recreational Health Advisory at the Utah Division of Water Quality shed some light, not only on the current situation at East Canyon, but on HABs as a whole. 

As opposed to regular algae, these HABs seen in Utah, and currently East Canyon Reservoir, are actually collections of cyanobacteria, tiny organisms that, as their name suggests, fall in the category of harmful bacteria. That’s why interaction with HABs like this can cause symptoms like a rash, skin irritation, and if ingested, serious illness like diarrhea, vomiting, kidney damage, or even some neurological symptoms.

The current bloom was spotted about two weeks ago by members of the HAB squad – a volunteer organization that keeps a lookout for and reports any possible HAB in bodies of water in Utah. This is earlier than normal, as a bloom like this is generally not spotted until October. The HAB Squad made their report, and after analysis, Bonner made her recommendation to the Weber/Morgan Health Departments, “It’s very much a collaborative effort,” she said.

With the current stage that the HAB in East Canyon is at, Bonner said that there are “very few options that can stop it at this point,” given the size of the reservoir, and the extent of the bloom. However, recovery isn’t impossible, “There’s hope to get East Canyon back to where we’re not seeing it every year,” said Bonner.

East Canyon has seen a HAB every year since 2018, and this is due in large part to the ideal conditions presented: warm water, and high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. These two elements, known as “nutrient pollution” can make their way into reservoirs from things like fertilizers, manure, pet droppings, and other such things common in the area.

Bonner is confident, however, that if more attention is paid to reducing these nutrient pollutants both on the individual and industrial scale, recreators will see fewer and fewer algal blooms each year, meaning more opportunity for using the reservoir for things like swimming, water skiing, and so forth.

Though the bloom will likely be present until November, recreation certainly isn’t off-limits. Bonner recommended that people should, “avoid activities that would allow that water to get into your mouth,” or that of pets. The best defense is to be aware, keeping a lookout for patches of HAB, and making sure to curb any activities like swimming, or water skiing that would increase the risk of ingestion.

More information about HABs around the state, and the current state of East Canyon Reservoir, along with helpful images and information can be found atλ

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