How to identify algae in your water when it’s not ‘blooming’

Algae is like the occasional uninvited guest in your water system; it’s natural, and we usually coexist just fine. But when it decides to throw an unannounced party and multiply like crazy, that’s when things can get out of hand, turning into HABs.

During a HAB, it’s as if the algae population is trying to make a big statement. The water might start looking like it’s dressed up in weird colors or even develop some rather unpleasant-looking surface scum. But here’s the tricky part – sometimes, these algae can be so sneaky that they stay hidden from plain sight. You might not see them, but they’re there, causing all sorts of trouble for your water system.

The nature of algae in water

Before we start figuring out how to spot algae when they’re not throwing colorful parties in the water, let’s get to know these little troublemakers better. Algae are like tiny water plants that love the sun. They come in different shapes and sizes, like singles, long strings, or groups of cells. Algae are like nature’s recyclers, they feed on things like nitrogen and phosphorus, and they’re pretty good at soaking up sunlight to make their food.

Now, here’s the thing about algae: they come in different colors. This color depends on what’s inside their cells, like chlorophyll and other pigments. When these microorganisms proliferate excessively, they can lead to unusual water taste, unpleasant odor, and a spectrum of colors, including green, brown, yellow, or red, depending on the specific algae species involved.

Keeping an eye on water clarity

Water clarity refers to how clear and transparent the water appears. In an ideal situation, you’d be able to see straight through it, just like a crystal-clear glass of water. But when algae begin to thrive, they can gradually turn your crystal-clear water making it less transparent and affecting the water’s turbidity.

Algae have this remarkable ability to absorb sunlight and nutrients, which are the very building blocks they need to grow and multiply. As their numbers increase, they can start to disrupt the water’s natural balance. They do this by scattering and absorbing light, similar to how you might toss small particles onto a clear window, which then makes it less see-through.

These particles, which can include algae, contribute to a decrease in water clarity. So, when you spot a gradual decline in water clarity, it’s a sign that something’s happening beneath the surface. Consider conducting water tests to measure nutrient levels, turbidity, and other parameters that may signal algae growth.

Scenting the presence of algae in the water

Our senses can be powerful allies in identifying the presence of algae in your water, even when they’re playing hide-and-seek beneath the surface. One distinctive sign of algae activity is the release of compounds that produce a unique and often unpleasant smell, described as musty or earthy.

When algae populations, particularly types like blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), grow, they emit Geosmin and MIB (2-Methylisoborneol), responsible for that earthy or musty odor. So, if you suddenly detect an unfamiliar, earthy, or musty scent around your water source, it’s your water’s way of sounding an alarm, signaling the possibility of algae presence.

To determine the presence of geosmin and MIB in your water, you can employ specialized tests. Numerous water testing kits and professional laboratories provide analysis services capable of detecting and measuring these compounds.

When the concentrations of these compounds are elevated in water, managing algae growth becomes a crucial step in mitigating taste and odor issues. For example, discover how CEDAE, a prominent water utility in Brazil, effectively employs ultrasound technology in controlling geosmin levels.

Understanding and managing algae is essential for maintaining water quality and ecosystem health. Algae, though often inconspicuous, can wield significant influence over your aquatic environment. By recognizing their subtle signs, from changes in water clarity to peculiar odors, you can stay one step ahead of potential issues.