Fertilizer washing into water supply contributing factor to algal bloom, officials say

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SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah - A growing number of cities are shutting down their secondary water supply as a toxic algae bloom spreads throughout the Salt Lake Valley.

"The problem is not going away any time soon," said Walt Baker, the Director of the Utah Division of Water Quality. "This is unprecedented."

Baker explained that most of the bloom originated in Utah Lake but has since spread to the Jordan River.

"You need warm temperatures, quiet waters, sunshine and food for this to happen," Baker said.

Baker added that part of the problem derives from people's fertilizer washing into storm drains and into the water supply, which feeds the toxic algae.

"There are two things we can do," he said. "We can either let Mother Nature run its course, or we can do something about the fertilizer problem."

Baker said the Department of Environmental Quality will keep an eye on the bloom, as it spreads further downstream in the Jordan River, and will be testing it.

So far, toxic levels appear to be diluting the farther away from Utah Lake it travels. Still, the levels are dangerous enough for the County Health Department to post warning signs for people in the area to encourage people and their pets to stay away from the water.

"It can cause diarrhea, headaches, respiratory problems," Baker said.

To protect residents, Riverton, most of South Jordan and Herriman City have cut off secondary water options to residents completely, but other areas like Bluffdale, which sits close to Utah Lake, still have access.

"If there's something in the water, I'm being affected," said Debbie Holt, a resident of Bluffdale who uses irrigation water from a nearby canal to grow crops and feed her goats.

"They are using whatever is coming out of the water," she added.

Holt said she hasn't received any sort of warning from the city about the dangers of the water, but may stop using it to be safe.

"I've been farming all my life," she said. "It's what I do.  If I don't have access to the water, I'll lose my garden."

Baker said the bloom is likely still growing, and getting more dangerous.

It likely won't clear up any time soon and could be a sign of things to come.