Gross Algae Bloom Engulfs a Lake Full of Human Shit

By Maddie Stone on at

We’re in the dog days of summer, which means disgusting algae blooms are cropping up across polluted and poorly managed waterways all over the United States. The latest slime-covered coastline to grab national headlines? Utah Lake, and it seems that actual human shit is to blame.

This stunning time-lapse video shows an algae bloom seeping into Utah Lake late last week, turning the popular boating destination a sickly shade of green. The bloom is being fuelled by a mixture of high heat, calm conditions, and phosphorus-loaded runoff from eight nearby wastewater treatment plants. In other words, it’s from our toilets.

On July 14th and 15th, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality issued advisories telling the public to steer clear of the water in Utah Lake, the connected Jordan river, and neighbouring canals. It was a good call, too. Testing by the Department of Environmental Health soon confirmed that the dominant organism in the bloom is a cyanobacteria that produces neurotoxins and can trigger liver failure.

“Water with these levels of concentration in the algal bloom pose serious health risks,” Ralph Clegg of the Utah County Health Department said in a statement. “To protect the health of people and animals that use the lake, it is necessary for the lake to remain closed until it is safe for recreation.”

Salt Lake County Health Department spokesperson Nicholas Rupp told Gizmodo algae blooms do occur on the lake from time to time. “This is almost certainly the largest one we’ve seen,” Rupp said.

While the bloom may be exceptional for Utah Lake, slimy disasters like this are becoming a familiar story. Florida’s St. Lucie estuary is still suffocating under an putrid algae bloom fuelled by months of agricultural runoff from a nearby lake. Last summer, El Niño-heated seawater trigged a vast algae bloom all the way down the west coast from Alaska to California, prompting numerous fisheries to close. Michigan’s Lake Erie blooms so routinely that NOAA has created a seasonal algae forecast tool specifically for it.

No two blooms are quite alike, and all are caused by a confluence of factors. But there’s growing concern that as global temperatures rise, one of the key conditions—hot weather—is going to be occurring more and more often. So, as a stop-gap until we decide to do something about climate change, might I humbly suggest that we try to curb the amount of crap flowing into our water?