Harmful Algal Bloom Monitoring

    HAB image

    What is our HAB Program?

    We have a multi-tier harmful algal bloom (HAB) monitoring program, designed in partnership with the Division of Water Quality to monitor and confirm blooms in Utah. HABs are of concern because they may produce harmful toxins.  Form more about harmful algal blooms go here.  Also, HAB Informational Tri-Fold

    Locations of microscopes(available for volunteer use for identification)

    Advanced Microscope Trainings

    Learn to use a microscope (with live algae) and abraxis test kits to verify potential harmful algal bloom samples brought in by volunteers. Interested volunteers should attend both the webinar and an in-person training.

    email waterquality@usu.edu to find out more

    Tier 1: Utah Water Watch Lakes’ volunteers are trained to monitor for potential blooms while they collect E. coli samples and perform basic water quality tests at their sites on a 1x monthly basis. If they suspect a cyanobacterial bloom they will follow the field instructions below and if need be, transport the sample to a local microscope.

    Field Instructions - Field Algae ID Guide - Tier 1 Data Sheet

    Tier 2: These volunteers are trained to use the microscopes and Abraxis test kits located at health departments and county extension offices to verify potential blooms. If they find cyanobacteria, they will alert the division of water quality.

    Tier 2 volunteers are welcome to monitor a Tier 1 site 1x a month or work with NOAA's phytoplankton monitoring program, collecting samples 2x a month and analyzing them at scopes for presence / absence of cyanobacteria.

    Lab Instructions - Lab Sheet - Target Species ID - Microcystin Test Strip - USGS Guide

    NOAA Program: Volunteers participating in the NOAA Freshwater Phytoplankton Monitoring network monitor a reservoir from ice-in to ice-out 2x a month. Monitoring consists of collecting a small sample along with basic water quality data and then using scopes to evaluate the presence / absence of 5 target cyanobacteria species. Data collected is uploaded to NOAA. These volunteers follow the above protocols if they suspect a bloom.

    NOAA presentation

    About HABs

    Background: Harmful algal blooms frequently occur in reservoirs, lakes and ponds, especially those that are highly nutrient enriched. These blooms are made up of billions of cyanobacteria: primitive nitrogen-fixing photosynthetic bacteria that thrive in warm, phosphorus rich waters.

    Why we monitor HABs: While harmless in small concentrations, blooms – large growths - can produce toxins that can be deadly for humans, pets and livestock. 

    What influences HABs: Harmful algal blooms tend to occur in warm waters that are nutrient enriched. Often as reservoirs are drawn-down in the summer, blooms occur. Nutrients can enter a lake through runoff (agricultural, urban or suburban) or from wastewater treatment plants. Utah – unlike many states - does not currently set standards for nutrients in discharge from sewage treatment plants, exacerbating the problem.

    More information: Divison of Water Quality 

    There are many types of algae besides cyanobacteria.  See the guide below to help with identification.

    Green Algae:

    It is very likely you will find green algae at your site. This alga can be filamentous, forming silky “clouds” below the surface or viscous mats on the surface. While potentially a nuisance, it is harmless.

    (images courtesy of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation)



    Cyanobacteria tends to be thick and viscous, like pea soup, rather than stringy. Blooms can range in color from brown to green to blue, depending on type, and can form streaks on the surface, grass-clipping like colonies or clumps, depending on type. Review the images below to familiarize yourself with the potential appearance of a bloom.

    (Images 1-4: Utah DEQ & Utah Health Department, Image 5: NYS DEQ, Image 6-7: Ohio EPA)