Frequently Asked Questions

Welcome to our FAQ page! We’ve compiled a list of the most commonly asked questions and their answers to help you find the information you need quickly and easily. To make navigation a breeze, we’ve used an Accordion style layout. This means you can click on each question to reveal its answer. If you have a specific question in mind, simply look through the list and click on the question to view the answer. If your question isn’t listed, feel free to reach out to us directly!

Algae


Not all blooms become toxic, we still don’t understand why toxins are produced sometimes and not other times. But we do know that if blooms don’t occur, toxins won’t be produced in amounts that could hurt us. If a bloom is occurring, it’s a good idea to stay out of the water even if we don’t know whether it’s toxic or not.

A combination of factors contributes to harmful algal blooms. They are the same things that help plants grow in the spring: warm temperatures, ample sunlight, and plenty of algae food (phosphorus and nitrogen that we call “nutrients”). Some of these things we can control, like how much nutrients we add to the water. Other things we can’t control, like the weather. We can be very certain that the temperatures will get warm and the sun will shine, especially in the late summer and early fall when these blooms usually happen. Researchers continue to work to better understand how these factors interact to create harmful algal blooms.

Read our blog post to learn more.

Not necessarily, algae are an important part of the lake ecosystem and provide food for the insects that fish rely on to survive. It’s only when the algae get thick and noxious that it becomes a problem for people and the fish that live in the water. There is also a specific kind of algae called “blue-green algae” that is especially concerning for people, pets, livestock. and wildlife, as it can produce harmful toxins and cause rashes, skin and eye irritation, allergic reactions, gastrointestinal upset, and other effects. You can usually tell when a blue-green algae bloom is occurring in that it will look like someone has poured blue-green paint in the water.

For safety from harmful algal blooms (HABs) at Utah Lake, it’s crucial to avoid contact with water that appears green, as this often indicates the presence of bacteria, specifically algae or filamentous cyanobacteria. When these organisms are visible or the water is green, it suggests cyanobacteria are growing and dispersed in the water column, which can be harmful.

Therefore, vigilance is advised when interacting with bodies of water, especially during warm, dry periods. Before visiting Utah Lake, check for any HAB warnings from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. If you’re boating, avoid areas of algae. If you catch any fish, clean them well and discard the guts. Ensure your pets or livestock do not drink the water or come into contact with the algae. The water in Utah Lake is not safe for drinking, especially during a HAB. Always remember, if you’re unsure about the condition of the water, it’s best to stay out.

To control and prevent harmful algal blooms in Utah Lake, several measures are being implemented:

1. Monitoring: The Utah Department of Environmental Quality conducts regular monitoring of the lake to detect harmful algal blooms. They issue advisories and health watches to keep the public informed about the current conditions.

2. Public Awareness: The public is advised to exercise caution around the lake. This includes avoiding areas of algae when boating, refraining from swimming or water skiing in areas with visible algae, cleaning fish thoroughly and discarding the guts, and not consuming the lake water.

3. Nutrient Pollution Control: Efforts are underway to control nutrient pollution from human sources, a key factor in preventing excessive nutrient enrichment. This involves implementing best practices in agriculture, managing stormwater runoff, and improving wastewater treatment systems.

These measures aim to reduce the occurrence and impact of algal blooms, protect public health, and preserve the ecosystem of Utah Lake. It’s a comprehensive approach that involves monitoring, public education, and pollution control.

Harmful algal blooms (HABs) at Utah Lake can significantly affect recreational activities. During HABs, it’s advised to avoid swimming or water skiing in areas with visible algae due to the potential presence of dangerous toxins that can harm humans and animals. While boating is generally permitted, boaters should steer clear of algal areas to prevent exposure to these toxins.

Fishing is also impacted as fish caught in the lake should be cleaned thoroughly and their guts discarded, given that toxins from the algae can accumulate in fish guts. Pets and animals should be kept away from the water during algal blooms and should not drink the water due to the risk of toxin exposure.

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality regularly monitors the lake and issues advisories and health watches to keep the public informed about current conditions. These measures aim to protect public health and preserve the recreational value of Utah Lake.

Algal blooms at Utah Lake, particularly those caused by cyanobacteria (blue-green algae), can pose health risks for both humans and animals. Direct contact or inhalation can lead to skin, eye, ear, nose, and respiratory irritation. Ingesting contaminated water can result in gastrointestinal issues like abdominal pain and vomiting. Swimmers and waders may experience skin rashes, a runny nose, a sore throat, and stomach problems. More serious health concerns can also arise. Animals ingesting large amounts of bloom-infested water can exhibit symptoms such as excessive drooling, vomiting, stumbling, excessive scratching, rashes, and difficulty breathing. While the lake remains open during blooms, precautions are advised such as avoiding high algae concentration areas, not drinking lake water, and keeping pets away from the water.

Visitors can stay informed about current conditions and advisories related to algae blooms at Utah Lake through several resources. The Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) provides regular updates on water quality and issues advisories when necessary. For the most up-to-date information, visitors can check the DEQ’s website. Marinas at Utah Lake, both public and private, have educational signage with photos to help recognize algae, safety recommendations, and contact information for more resources. By staying informed and following the advisories, visitors can ensure a safe and enjoyable experience at Utah Lake.

General Lake Questions


Utah Lake is the largest freshwater lake in the United States west of the Mississippi River. It covers an area of approximately 150 square miles (390 square km) and is 23 miles (37 km) long. The lake spans up to 24 miles in length and 13 miles in width. It occupies over one-fourth of the valley floor of Utah Valley and contains about 900,000 acre feet of water. The average depth of the lake is about 10.5 feet (3.2 m), and the maximum depth is about 14 feet (4.3 m). The lake’s depth can vary depending on weather conditions and irrigation deliveries.

Utah Lake, a shallow freshwater lake in Utah County, has a rich history and significant ecological and cultural importance. First seen by European Father Silvestre Vélez de Escalante in 1776, the lake was later settled by Latter-Day Saints in 1849. It’s a remnant of the much larger Pleistocene Lake Bonneville.

The lake has faced pollution challenges, including harmful algal blooms caused by excess nutrients, particularly phosphorus. Human activities, such as discharges from wastewater treatment plants and agricultural runoff, have contributed to these issues. However, recent years have seen a shift towards restoration and conservation efforts to create a balanced environment for ecosystems, recreation, and communities.

Culturally, Utah Lake has been a vital resource for thousands of years. Native American cultures utilized its food resources, and the lake has been used for hunting, fishing, gathering, and worship. For Latter-Day Saints, the lake’s fish helped sustain early settlers. Today, Utah is home to more than 2 million Latter-day Saints, underscoring the lake’s ongoing cultural significance.

For a more in-depth history of Utah Lake, consider watching the Utah Lake Legacy video. This resource provides a comprehensive exploration of the lake’s past, enhancing your understanding of its ecological, cultural, and historical significance.

If you find trash at Utah Lake, you should contact the appropriate authorities to ensure it’s properly addressed. You can reach out to Heather at Heather@utahlake.gov. She will be able to guide you on the necessary steps to take. Remember, every effort helps in maintaining the cleanliness and beauty of Utah Lake.

There are several misconceptions about Utah Lake that often stem from a lack of understanding about the lake’s unique ecosystem and natural processes. It’s always a good idea to research and learn more about such topics to gain a more accurate understanding of Utah Lake. Here are some key points:

Poor Flavor of Fish

Some might think that the fish from Utah Lake have poor flavor or texture. However, long-time fishermen have found the lake’s fish to be great table fare year-round.

Algal Blooms

There’s a misconception that Utah Lake is the only lake that experiences algal blooms. In reality, algal blooms can occur in many bodies of water under certain conditions.

Safety for Recreation

Some people believe it’s never safe to recreate in Utah Lake. However, with proper precautions and awareness of current conditions, the lake can be enjoyed safely.

Smelly Water and Gnats in Summer

People often believe that the lake’s water is smelly and full of gnats in the summer. While the lake can have a distinct smell and gnats can be present, these are natural occurrences and do not indicate that the lake is unhealthy or unsafe.

High Pollution

Many believe that Utah Lake is highly polluted, a perception reinforced when wind stirs up the lake’s loose bottom, turning the water muddy. However, the lake’s water and fish are healthier than perceived. The muddiness actually helps protect the lake’s water quality and fish by reducing sunlight penetration, which is necessary for harmful algae production.

If you’re interested in actively participating, visit our ‘Volunteer Opportunities’ page to find upcoming projects. For those who have a general interest in the lake and wish to receive updates, and news,  consider signing up for our email list.

No! It is not the dirtiest lake in the US.

Utah Lake, one of the largest natural freshwater lakes in the western United States, has faced several water quality issues. The lake is considered hypereutrophic, meaning it is overly rich in nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous. These excessive concentrations of nutrients can cause large seasonal algal blooms, elevated pH, and possible cyanotoxin production during harmful algal blooms.

Historically, raw sewage was dumped into the lake as late as 1967. The lake’s phosphorus and mineral salt levels have been in violation of the Clean Water Act. In recent years, the lake has been prone to harmful algal blooms or HABs.

However, it’s important to note that the term “dirtiest” can be subjective and depends on the specific parameters used to assess water quality. While Utah Lake has had its share of issues, many efforts are being made to improve its water quality. The Utah Department of Environmental Quality has been conducting a Utah Lake Water Quality Study with the goal of developing nitrogen and phosphorus criteria that are protective of the lake’s designated beneficial uses.

In addition to these efforts, the Utah Lake Authority has been working to improve the lake by increasing social community outreach, organizing lake-related events that help the lake’s ecosystem, communities, and recreation, and enhancing safety measures.

So, while Utah Lake has faced significant water quality challenges, it might not be accurate to label it as the “dirtiest” lake without a comprehensive comparison of water quality data from other lakes around the world. It’s also worth noting that “dirtiness” can be temporary and reversible with appropriate management and conservation efforts.

CARP


In the 1880s carp were introduced to Utah Lake to replace the dwindling number of native fish, including Bonneville cutthroat trout, and to provide locals with a hardy fish that was a popular food in other areas of the world. The carp had long-lasting, negative impacts on the lake and its native fish community because they destroyed cover that provided protection for small fish from their predators. The carp’s aggressive foraging habits eventually destroyed the pondweed on the surface and the plant life on the lake floor. This directly impacted the native fish population. Carp also reproduce and grow faster than June sucker. Because June sucker grow slower, they remain vulnerable to predators longer. In the early 2000’s, carp made up more than 90 percent of the biomass (weight) of fish in the lake. Since then, the June Sucker Program has removed over 35 million pounds of carp.

The removal project began in September of 2009 and has removed a cumulative amount of just over ­­­­35 million pounds of carp. Each year, the JSRIP had a goal of removing 3.5 million pounds of carp each year until 2018. Since then, due to a significant reduction in population, the target each year has been reduced to 1 million pounds.

Since the beginning, the project’s goal was to maintain intensive fishing for carp until 2018 and then reduce the fishing to a maintenance schedule. This maintenance schedule has been implemented and is significantly reduced from the intensive fishing and should keep the carp population levels low. Meanwhile, the June Sucker Program is working to restore vital habitat in the Provo River Delta Restoration Project that started construction in March 2020 and continues to work toward innovative solutions to restore the endangered June sucker.

Yes, you can eat the fish from Utah Lake. There are many species of fish you can catch, and many are described as tasty. There is a fish advisory for PCBs for the carp and catfish, recommending limiting consumption. More details here: DEQ Fish Advisories

JUNE SUCKER


The June sucker, named for its annual June spawning run, is endemic to Utah Lake. This means there are no other places in Utah or the world where June Sucker live naturally. The species was listed as endangered in 1986, and efforts are underway to recover the species. For more information about this fish and efforts to help it recover from its endangered status, visit the June Sucker Recovery Implementation Program’s website.

There were 13 native fish species that originally inhabited Utah Lake. Only the June sucker and the Utah sucker are still present. One species, the Utah Lake sculpin is considered extinct with the last specimen collected in 1928. The Bonneville cutthroat trout are primarily restricted to headwater streams. The least chub, native only to Utah and once abundant along the Wasatch Front, persists only in a small population in north Juab Valley and a few areas of the West Desert. The Bonneville redside shiner, mottled sculpin, leatherside chub, Utah chub, speckled dace, longnose dace, mountain whitefish, and mountain sucker are no longer in the lake but still exist in tributaries. All other species of fish present in Utah Lake were introduced intentionally as a food source or for recreational angling and compete with or prey upon the native fish.

WATER STORAGE and Quality


The major source of the murkiness in Utah Lake has to do with the mountains that surround the lake, especially those on the east side. These mountains are made up of mostly limestone, which contains a lot of calcium carbonate, the same thing as chalk. When the water flows down over and through these mountains, it transports the calcium carbonate to Utah Lake where it concentrates to the point that the water looks a little “milky” or “murky.” The sediments resting on the lake bottom are then stirred up by wind-created waves and large bottom-feeding fish like carp. There are also other things in the water that add to the murkiness, like algae and tiny bits of plant matter that wash in, but mostly, the calcium carbonate gives the lake its special look.

There are many sources of nutrients, some natural (eroding of rocks, wildlife excrement) and some from humans (fertilizer, wastewater, livestock waste). The natural sources have been here since before humans began to settle the area and will continue as long as water continues to flow into the lake. These sources are generally small compared to the sources coming from humans who now live in the area. As the area continues to grow in population, more nutrients will be added to the lake, unless the wastewater, stormwater, and agricultural runoff is cleaned up more before it’s released back to the lake.

Before wastewater treatment plants were built during the mid-20th century, raw sewage was discharged into Utah Lake, but today all sewage is treated before being released back into the environment.

The level of Utah Lake is primarily affected by climate but is also affected by water use from the lake and its tributaries. Utah Lake drains 3,846 square miles of land, and the precipitation over this area varies from year to year. On average, about half the water that flows into the lake is lost to evaporation. In successive years of warm, dry conditions, the use and evaporation from the lake exceed the inflow to the lake, causing the lake level to go down.

The water that enters Utah Lake arrives from a variety of locations. Water comes from a variety of locations east of the lake, as far away as Trial Lake. For more information about how Central Utah Water Conservancy District helps manage the water in Utah Lake, check out their website or call 801-226-7100.

Snowpack produces the vast majority of all streamflow into Utah Lake, around 98% or more, with summertime precipitation producing the remainder of annual flow. Thus, above average mountain snowpack is the single most critical factor producing above average inflows to the lake.

– Julander and Clayton. Toward a greater understanding of Utah snowmelt hydrology, Proceedings of the Western Snow Conference, 2017.

Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) is the amount of water that would be released if the snowpack were instantly melted in place. SWE is important, as it is relational to the amount of water that will come down Utah’s rivers and streams as the snow melts.

Check out more details about snowpack at the KSL Snow Pack Levels.

The vast majority of Utah streamflow is snowmelt in origin. Areas of the watershed that hold the most snow and are close to a stream channel, such as north aspects higher than 8,000 feet, produce far more water than areas remote from stream channels or on southern aspects. Elevations below 7,500 feet produce little flow regardless of aspect. Aspens and meadows produce greater streamflow than coniferous forests.

Below is a list of the spots checked with snowpack in out watershed that are upstream form Utah Lake:

Trial Lake

Snowbird

Mill D North

Clear Creek

Brighton

Redden Mine Lwr

Beaver Divide

Lookout Peak

Timpanogos Divide

Payson R.S.

Daniels Strawberry

Cascade Mountain

Clear Creek

Parleys Summit

Hobble Creek Dry Fork

Louis Medow

All waters in the state are the property of the public, subject to the existing rights to the use thereof (Utah Code Sec. 73-1-1) https://le.utah.gov/xcode/Title73/Chapter1/73-1-S1.html?v=C73-1-S1_1800010118000101. There are several entities in Utah and Salt Lake counties that own water rights, or the right to use water in Utah Lake, including farmers, industrial users, and municipalities. These water users operate a dam and pumping station at the lake’s outlet to the Jordan River, allowing for regulation of outflow in accordance with demand from the lake.

There are numerous water right owners directly on Utah Lake as wells as on tributaries to Utah Lake, such as the American Fork, Provo, and Spanish Fork rivers. The direct use and storage of this water affect the amount of water in Utah Lake. Some water users also import water from the Weber and Duchesne river systems, which adds water to the lake. The State Engineer and several appointed river commissioners regulate the diversion of water from Utah Lake and its tributaries to ensure senior water right holders are protected in accordance with the principle of prior appropriation, sometimes referred to as “first in time, first in right.” This is done in accordance with the Utah Lake Distribution Plan adopted by the State Engineer in 1992. http://waterrights.utah.gov/wrinfo/policy/ut_lake/plan.asp

Couldn’t Find the Answer to Your Question?