New sensors may help experts in Utah detect algal blooms before they spread

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UTAH COUNTY - New sensor technology could hopefully detect algal blooms long before they spread in lakes here in Utah.

"We're very excited they're here," said Ben Holcomb with the Division of Water Quality.

Holcomb is referring to a group of U.S. geological survey hydrologists that were in Utah on Wednesday to show off an early detection device.

"These sensors will be able to read upwards of thirty elements in the water," said Christopher Shope with the USGS. "We have a sampling device that brings the water up on the boat, and we monitor it as it flows continuously through the system."

Shope said the machine gives updates every second, and those results get mapped out online. As the boat traces back and forth over the water, the results leave a trail across the map screen in different colors.

Those different colors indicate greater or lesser concentrations of certain elements. Blue is a low-frequency reading, while red indicates higher concentrations.

"Right now this is a pilot program," Holcomb said. "But if this were fully funded, you'd probably want someone with a boat like this on the water here at Utah Lake about eight times a year."

Holcomb says hydrologists are looking for specific elements on the readings, elements that could feed bacteria and algae and could be early indicators that a bloom is nearing.

"We put some of our own sensors on the water within days of the first bloom," Holcomb adds.

He said they've already dropped three sensors into the water at Utah Lake, and they hope to drop three more in the coming weeks. Each has a price tag of about $25,000.

"We post that information and readings online, so the public can see those readings as well," Holcomb said.

Those readings will posted online by the Division of Water Quality within a few weeks.