Interview source: Roxanne Johnson, Extension Water Quality Associate, North Dakota State University
Blue-green algae is a toxic, smelly, gelatinous mass that can bloom on the surface overnight. It's troublesome in ponds, stock tanks, and other still bodies of water.
Roxanne Johnson is an extension water quality associate at North Dakota State University. She says blue-green algae isn't actually an algae. It's a bacterium that thrives on abundant nutrients in the water such as phosphorous and nitrogen.
"It does not look like what we usually see when we're driving down the road, we'll see a lot of solid green masses. A lot of times that's duckweed, or a moss-type thing. This is blue and green, and it's foamy-looking."
Johnson says as the bacteria break down, they release toxins that can be an irritant to human skin and potentially lethal to animals. Toxicity depends on the species drinking the water, the concentration of bacteria, and amount of water ingested.
"Typically what will happen is you'll get the bloom, then you'll get a little wind, that wind will push it all over to the downward side of that pond," explains Johnson. "What you might see is dead mice, dead birds, maybe a cat, a dog, smaller animals that will go up there, drink, and it will kill them if it's in concentrations of a certain amount right there on the spot."
Keep all livestock, pets, and people away from the water. There's not much you can do about a blue-green algae bloom other than let it run its course. However, there are ways to prevent it such as placing barley straw in the water, using algaecides, and reducing fertilizer runoff from lawns and fields.
Learn more about blue-green algae and symptoms of human exposure
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