1687981546 Learn about and monitor the quality of Utahs recreational water.svg | mnfolkarts

Learn about and monitor the quality of Utah’s recreational water


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Note: This map provides up-to-date data on harmful algal blooms AND/OR waterborne pathogens. DWQ doesn’t monitor all sites on the map for either.

What is an alert?

Local health departments issue alerts when waterborne pathogens (E. coli) or harmful algal blooms (HABs) in the body of water are dangerous to human and animal health.

There are three different levels: Health Observatory, Warning noticeAND Danger warning.

If you are visiting a body of water under warning, be careful and choose only safe activities.

What is a Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB)?

Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae or harmful algae, aren’t actually algae. Rather, they are aquatic bacteria that photosynthesize like a plant.

Cyanobacteria live naturally in every body of water in the world. A HAB, or harmful algal bloom, occurs when cyanobacteria multiply rapidly to form a « bloom » or visible colonies of millions of cells. Sometimes the cyanobacteria that form these blooms can produce disease-causing toxins and can damage the human kidney, liver, or neurological system. Pets and livestock are more likely to drink water and be injured by these toxins.

If you suspect a harmful algal bloom

  • Know how to spot a HAB.
  • Don’t swim in waters that appear to bloom.
  • Do not ride a boat, tube, water ski or jet ski on foamy waters. These activities can cause toxins to become airborne, making you more likely to inhale them.
  • Do not let children play with foam in water or near shore.
  • Do not let pets or livestock swim or drink from foamy waters.
  • Snap photos of what you see and call (801) 536-4123 to report a bloom.
  • When in doubt, stay out.

Every time you recreate in water

What are the health effects of harmful algae?

HABs can cause skin irritation, gastrointestinal disease, and in some cases, permanent organ damage or death. You can be exposed to the harmful effects of cyanobacteria from:

Floating donut

Put them on the skin while swimming or wading.

Water: half empty glass.  Or is it half full?

Drink contaminated water.

Boat in the style of SS Minnow

Inhalation of toxins in the air while surfing, water skiing or water skiing.

In the event that you or your pet comes into contact with a HAB, rinse off with clean, fresh water as soon as possible. Move away from the source of exposure and contact the Utah Poison Control Center (UPCC) at (800) 222-1222. UPCC doctors, pharmacists, and nurses trained in toxicology can answer your questions and advise you on the need for additional medical or veterinary care.

People or animals exposed to cyanotoxins may experience the following symptoms:

Direct skin contact or inhalation:

  • Skin irritation
  • Eye irritation
  • Nose irritation
  • Throat irritation
  • Respiratory irritation


  • Abdominal pain
  • Heachache
  • neurological symptoms
  • Vomit
  • Diarrhea
  • Damage to the kidneys or liver

Check for these symptoms in your pet after a potential exposure:

  • Excessive smudge
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Strolling or muscle tremors
  • Loss of appetite
  • Excessive scratches
  • Rashes or hives
  • Difficulty breathing or weakness
  • Seizures or paralysis (in severe cases)

Children may be more at risk for infection than adults by toxins produced by HABs.

Children are more likely to drink recreational water or accidentally swallow it because they are thirsty or accidentally swallow it. Children also weigh less, so a smaller amount of the toxin can trigger an even greater adverse effect than adults.

Pets are more sensitive to cyanotoxins than humans.

Animals can consume large amounts of cyanobacteria if they drink the water and are more likely to become seriously ill or die. Dogs are especially sensitive because the foam can stick to their coats and be ingested during self-grooming.

HAB toxins can enter drinking water supplies.

Blooms may occur during waterfowl hunting season.

What Causes Harmful Algal Blooms?

Conditions leading to HABs are most common in late summer and early fall. These include:

  • High levels of nutrients (phosphorus)
  • Abundant sunlight
  • Warm temperatures
  • Standing or slow-moving water

If these conditions are present for several days, cyanobacteria can multiply to form large blooms that can blanket an entire lake or congregate in smaller areas. The flowers generally die and disappear after a week or two.

If conditions remain favourable, overlapping blooms may occur over the course of several months, giving the impression of continuous flowering. Algal toxins can persist for days after a bloom has dissipated and, depending on the type of cyanobacteria present, can even increase as the toxins are released from dying cells.

How can I help stop harmful algal blooms?

Excess nutrients, especially phosphorus, in water bodies can trigger algal blooms. Wastewater treatment plant discharges, runoff from agricultural operations, and stormwater runoff can carry nitrogen and phosphorus into waterways and promote the growth of cyanobacteria.

You can do your part to improve water quality!

Reducing nutrient loads in waters is the best way to limit the occurrence of harmful algal blooms. Please visit DWQ’s Nutrient Reduction page for more information on Utah’s efforts to reduce nutrient pollution in our waters.

We also rely on community members to help us spot HAB development. Join the HAB team to assist in monitoring a body of water near you!

What are waterborne pathogens (E. coli)?

Waterborne pathogens are bacteria, viruses and parasites that can make people ill. These waterborne pathogens can cause diarrhea, vomiting, cramps, fever, and skin rashes. Escherichia coli (or E. coli for short) is used to measure the likelihood of waterborne pathogens being found in recreational water. People are at risk of infection when they swallow water with high levels of E. coli or eat food after exposure without washing their hands.

Every time you recreate in water

  • Do not swim after heavy storms.
  • Do not swim or play in rainwater ponds or irrigation ditches.
  • Avoid areas with foul-smelling water or obvious waterfowl or wildlife droppings.

How do I know if there are waterborne pathogens?

You cannot tell if your water is contaminated with waterborne pathogens just by looking at it. Be sure to check the current conditions for the latest tracking results.

Is E. coli in water dangerous?

The Water Quality Division and the ASLs use the E. coli bacterium as “indicator organism.” High levels of E. coli indicate fecal (or poop) contamination and a high likelihood that disease-causing waterborne pathogens are present.

Health impacts

Recreational activities like swimming, tubing, water skiing, paddle boarding, and water play increase the risk of exposure to waterborne pathogens that can make people ill.

Common symptoms of exposure

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomit
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain (cramps)
  • Fever
  • Rash

What causes waterborne pathogens?

Fecal waste, or poop, is responsible for the majority of waterborne pathogens found in recreational waters. Fecal waste can enter surface waters from a number of sources, including:

  • People who swim when they are sick with diarrhea and/or vomiting
  • Dog, livestock, waterfowl and wildlife waste
  • Sewage spills or leaky septic tanks
  • Rainwater runoff following heavy storms
  • Agricultural runoff from fields treated with manure
  • Unloading waste from boats

Recreational water diseases can be caused by bacteria such as shigella AND E. colivirus like norovirusand parasites like cryptosporidium AND giardia. Symptoms may appear immediately, but some may occur a week or two after exposure.

Contact the Utah Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222 or a physician if you have an illness that could be related to playing in untreated surface water.

How can I help prevent waterborne pathogens?

Preventing faecal contamination is the best way to limit the onset of pathogens present in the water. You can do your part to improve water quality by taking the following steps:


Do not swim during diarrhea or within two weeks of diarrhea.


Shower with soap and clean water before swimming.

Fertilizer bag.

Visit the bathroom before entering the water.


Take babies to frequent bathroom breaks and diaper changes. Do not change diapers near water.

Septic tank operated by Winston Rothschild III.

Repair leaky septic systems.

Smoking pile of household waste

Collect pet waste and dispose of it properly.

Stormwater retention ponds and irrigation ditches

You should never swim in urban or suburban ponds or irrigation ditches. These waters accumulate bacteria, chemicals and faecal matter and can cause serious illness.

Some stormwater ponds are monitored and sampled for waterborne pathogens, stocked with fish, and may even include boat ramps. The public should avoid them anyway: they are not designed for recreational use.

HABs and waterborne pathogens pose a threat to Utah’s water-based recreation, culinary water supplies, aquatic ecosystems, and agricultural and residential (secondary) irrigation uses. Multiple agencies manage and protect these uses and users. DEQ has been working with its partners to help response agencies develop health counseling guidelines and response plans.

Advisory guidance

The Utah Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and DWQ have prepared a recreational health counseling guide for local health departments.

Drinking water

Several sources of drinking water in Utah are vulnerable to HABs. Learn more and monitor water conditions with these resources.


The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) has developed a response plan to inform, educate and engage agricultural producers when water quality problems arise due to HABs.

Other resources

DEQ has compiled a list of additional HAB resources for response agencies, including general HAB information, EPA guidance documents, relevant publications, and other helpful resources.

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