Utah researchers teaming up with FGCU to keep our water safe for humans and animals

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne
Published: Updated:
Researchers at Zion National Park study algal blooms in Virgin River. (National Parks Service)

Researchers in Utah have joined forces with Florida Gulf Coast University’s water school to protect our country’s water sources for people and animals alike.

“One of the most important things we can do is make sure they are safe in the water,” said Kate Fickas, Ph.D., an environmental scientist at the Utah Division of Water Quality.

“In Utah, in Zion National Park actually in the Virgin River, there is a benthic community, that means it lives on the bottom,” said Barry Rosen, Ph.D., a professor at FGCU Water School.

Scientists in Utah connected this harmful algal bloom at the bottom of the river to a dog’s death this summer.

“When we got this call, it was somewhat surprising to us that a dog had died exhibiting symptoms of a harmful algal bloom,” Fickas said.

Surprising because these benthic mats aren’t like the green, scummy algae we’ve seen here in Southwest Florida.

“They can float in the water column and I suspect these cyanobacteria do as well, at least that’s what Dr. Rosen discovered when he started culturing them,” said Ben Holcomb, standards and technical services manager at the Utah Division of Water Quality.

If this type of cyanobacteria can float up, it means a greater risk of exposure for animals.

“They measured very high concentrations of the neurotoxin called ‘anatoxin-A,'” Rosen said.

Now, researchers need to find out if this is the only organism producing the toxin or if there’s more out there.

The river is an important resource for people living in the area because it’s used for drinking water, irrigation and recreation.

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