Waterfowl hunting season in Utah begins in October, and while hunters are prepared with decoys, dogs, and ammunition, they may not be prepared to recognize and avoid harmful algal blooms (HABs) on Utah waterbodies.
On October 31, the Division of Water Quality (DWQ) stops monitoring for HABs as temperatures drop and weather conditions worsen during fall and winter. While many people assume that HABs only occur during hot summer weather, they can persist throughout the fall and winter and can pose a potential threat to humans and pets.
Most active advisories will be lifted by the end of October and signs removed. However, it’s essential to know that these blooms can continue in colder weather. People should know what to look for, and when in doubt, keep out.
Blooms form when naturally occurring cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, multiply to high densities and form visible water discoloration, scum, and mats. Harmful algal blooms can look like pea soup, spilled paint, grass clippings or water that has a green or blue-green hue. Hunters can visit the HABs Photo Gallery to view examples of blooms in Utah.
Hunters are advised to stay out of the water and avoid any contact with water or scum if they suspect a harmful algal bloom. They should clean waterfowl and fish well and discard all guts.
If hunters suspect a bloom, they should also keep their dogs away from the water, as the toxins from HABs can be fatal in pets. Dogs can be exposed to toxins by skin contact with water contaminated with cyanobacteria or toxins, when swallowing water, or by licking the water off their fur or hair. If hunters believe their pet has been exposed, they should seek immediate care from their veterinarian. Even with proper veterinary care, most exposures are fatal. Prevention is the best way to protect pets.