Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for aquatic life forms and plays a major role in the algae blooms that occur in lakes and reservoirs. It is considered a primary limiting nutrient of phytoplankton growth in streams, lakes, and reservoirs. Excess amounts of phosphorous may cause excess growth and biomass of algae. If phosphorus is available in excess, often from sewage and industrial discharges, the high levels in a lake or reservoir can lead to eutrophication. Utah Lake is a shallow, basin-bottom lake in a semi-arid climate with sediments that are thousands of feet thick. Starting 165 years ago, humans have been discharging wastewater into Utah Lake, which in our day has raised serious questions on how the state can mitigate the negative effects of the external nutrient loading. Even though Utah Lake receives a significant amount of anthropogenic phosphorous, there are high levels of phosphorous in geologic deposits in the area, providing a long-term natural source. This study intends to provide data on the current distribution of phosphorous in lake sediments, potential for that phosphorous to be released into the water column affecting phytoplankton growth, and how historic lake sediment phosphorous levels compare to the levels in current sediments. Sediments play an important role in the overall metabolism of shallow lakes. They supply the water column with phosphorus and must be considered as they serve as a sink and source. More than 50 branches of surface flow discharge into Utah Lake, 15 of which are major. Based on previous data, a positive retention of phosphorus from these branches occurs in the lake, of which the sediment plays a role. Phosphorus release from sediment occurs under very complicated processes under many different conditions. Some main influential factors include the iron and calcium content, redox potential, microbial processes, turbidity, sediment resuspension, temperature, and pH. In this study, I analyzed 85 sediment samples sampled across Utah Lake for total phosphorus. I created Geospatial maps to show the phosphorous distribution. The data showed an average phosphorus level of 666 ppm and varied in distribution throughout the lake, though the majority of the lake had levels in the 600 to 800 ppm range. There were a few samples, which had lower total phosphorus levels, in the 200 to 300 ppm range. Based on the map, I found that these lower values were in locations representing potential springs. I hypothesize that this underground water source leached some of the phosphorous from the sediments in these areas. I found that total phosphorus concentrations in current lake sediment are quite similar to phosphorus levels in historic lake sediments levels. I also performed laboratory experiments to characterize sediment-water interactions and estimate the amount of phosphorus that could be released from lake sediments to the water column.



College and Department

Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology; Civil and Environmental Engineering



Date Submitted


Document Type





total phosphorus, sediment