Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs)

A HAB is an overgrowth of, cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) in surface water. Cyanobacteria are microscopic organisms found in all types of water. They are more like bacteria than plants, but because they live in water and use sunlight to create food (photosynthesis) they are often called "blue-green algae." Cyanobacteria are important to freshwater ecosystems because they make oxygen as a by-product of photosynthesis, and they are a food source for other organisms.

An Advisory means a blue-green algae bloom is present in portions of the waterbody. The blue-green algae may be harmful to humans and pets. To reduce the risk of illness:

  • Do not swim, waterski, or tube if the water looks like spilled green paint or pea soup.
  • Avoid swallowing water and watch small children and pets who may ingest water.
  • Rinse off with clean water after swimming.
  • Stay away from areas of scum when boating.

A Warning means a blue-green algae bloom is present over a significant portion of the lake and excessive microcystin levels have been measured.

  • Avoid contact with the water.
  • Individuals should not take part in contact recreational activities (e.g., swimming, water skiing, kayaking and paddle boarding).
  • Do not allow pets in the water.

Active Harmful Algal Bloom Advisories:

2019 Harmful Algal Bloom Advisories - Link to Listed Lakes

The Harmful in Harmful Algal Bloom

Under certain environmental conditions, cyanobacteria can multiply quickly and form a bloom. Some species of cyanobacteria produce cyanotoxins that are released when the cells die and rupture. The toxins can cause harm to people, wildlife, livestock, pets and aquatic life. Almost every year in North Dakota, a few cases of pet and livestock deaths occur due to drinking water with HABs.

Additional effects of HABs include:

  • Blocking sunlight needed for other aquatic organisms
  • Raising treatment costs for public water supply systems and industries
  • Depleting dissolved oxygen as the algae dies off, resulting in fish kills
Algal Bloom - 3

Specific human health effects are:

  • Allergic-like reactions
  • Skin rashes
  • Eye irritation
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Respiratory irritation
  • Neurological effects

What Grows Algae?

  • Excess nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen)
  • Warm water temperatures
  • Slow-moving water
  • Sunlight

The major source of food for algae is nutrients that enter North Dakota lakes from:

  • Fertilizers (fields and yards)
  • Livestock and pet waste
  • Septic systems

The Source of the Problem

Once a waterbody has an excess of nutrients, the problem cannot be fixed overnight. Nutrients must be removed mechanically and/or allowed to be reduced naturally through internal cycling, while limiting the sources of nutrients in the watershed. Several North Dakota lakes have hypolimnetic drawdown systems that remove nutrient-rich water from the bottom of the lake. These systems can be effective at removing nutrients, but they do not address the nutrient sources.

What Can You Do?

Everyone plays a part in feeding the algae, from how you fertilize your lawn to the timing of fertilizing a 160-acre field, to whether or not you pick up your pet's waste, to the proper management of livestock waste. Tips to reduce nutrients from entering runoff to our surface waters:

  • Sample the soil in your yard before you fertilize.
  • Leave your grass clippings on the lawn - they give nitrogen back to the lawn.
  • If you do need to fertilize, use only the recommended amount of product and keep it off sidewalks and other hard surfaces.
  • Use field soil samples to calculate a nutrient budget for your crops.
  • Complete a comprehensive nutrient management plan for your farm.
  • Sample manure before applying it to the soil to ensure it is applied at the correct agronomic rate.


Water Quality Division Employee Email List (click to expand)

Last Name First Name E-Mail Address Program Phone
Anderson Carl cjanders@nd.gov WQ Ground Water Monitoring 701.328.5213
Collins Jim jcollins@nd.gov WQ Watershed Management 701.328.5161
Crowdus Kory kCrowdus@nd.gov WQ Spill Investigation 701.328.5202
DeVries Sam sgDeVries@nd.gov WQ NDPDES Permitting 701.328.5215
Espe Brady bespe@nd.gov WQ NDPDES Permitting 701.328.5234
Gleich Casey ctGleich@nd.gov WQ Ground Water Monitoring 701.328.4164
Gross Joe jlgross@nd.gov WQ Watershed Management 701.328.5292
Grossman Dallas dgrossma@nd.gov WQ NDPDES Permitting 701.328.5242
Guiliani Bill wgiuliani@nd.gov WQ NDPDES Permitting 701.328.5285
Hargiss Mike mhargiss@nd.gov WQ Watershed Management 701.499.5209
Haroldson Marty mharolds@nd.gov WQ NDPDES Permitting 701.328.5234
Harries Alison aharries@nd.gov WQ Ground Water Monitoring 701.328.5217
Husband Heather hhusband@nd.gov WQ Watershed Management 701.537.2043
Kitzes Edwin eKitzes@nd.gov WQ Watershed Management 701.328.5292
Lang Jeremiah jmlang@nd.gov WQ NDPDES Permitting 701.328.5219
Larsen Aaron allarsen@nd.gov WQ Watershed Management 701.328.5230
Nett Joseph jnett@nd.gov WQ Watershed Management 701.328.5227
Nieraeth Shawna sNeiraeth@nd.gov WQ Ground Water Monitoring 701.328.5267
Ogorman Brian bogorman@nd.gov WQ Spill Investigation 701.328.5177
Olson Paul paulrolson@nd.gov WQ Watershed Management 701.328.5233
Peterson Andrew awpeterson@nd.gov WQ Ground Water Monitoring 701.328.5294
Piper Dianna dpiper@nd.gov Water Quality Division 701.328.5210
Rockeman Karl krockema@nd.gov Water Quality Division 701.328.5212
Roerick Jeffrey jroerick@nd.gov WQ NDPDES Permitting 701.328.5240
Sandness Greg gsandnes@nd.gov WQ Watershed Management 701.328.5232
Sandvick Duane dsandvick@nd.gov WQ NDPDES Permitting 701.328.5191
Schick McKenzie mschick@nd.gov WQ Watershed Management
Schuett Patrick pschuett@nd.gov WQ NDPDES Permitting 701.328.5235
Souder Taylor tsouder@nd.gov WQ Spill Investigation 701.328.5236
Starr Sarah sstarr@nd.gov WQ NDPDES Permitting 701.328.5215
Stockdill Scott sjstockdill@nd.gov WQ Spill Investigation 701.328.5241
Strommen Rachel rstrommen@nd.gov WQ NDPDES Permitting 701.328.5244
Suess Bill bsuess@nd.gov WQ Spill Investigation 701.328.5216
Suggs Shannon ssuggs@nd.gov WQ Ground Water Monitoring 701.328.6409
Swanberg Samantha sswanberg@nd.gov WQ NDPDES Permitting 701.328.5239
Waldron Feld Sarah sfeld@nd.gov WQ NDPDES Permitting 701.328.5237
Wax Peter pwax@nd.gov WQ Special Projects 701.328.5268