ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – “Harmful algal bloom” is a three-word phrase that any lakeside resident should know – whether from experience or preparedness. Blooms grow from excess nutrient output into water bodies, and can potentially become toxic to humans and animals. This year, the state Department of Environmental Conservation is once again employing a system that lets anyone by the water report what they see.

The DEC is asking New York residents and visitors to “know it, avoid it, report it” by way of the statewide New York Harmful Algal Bloom System. The program offers a map that shows known algal bloom locations around the state – as well as a way to report new potential blooms on sight.

“Harmful algal blooms contain toxins that pose health risks to people and animals, so we want to encourage New Yorkers to be on the lookout this summer as they spend time in the water,” said Acting State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald. “The New York Harmful Algal Bloom System (NYHABS) is an easy tool that allows the public to both protect themselves by becoming aware of trouble areas as well as to report blooms in an effort to help protect others.”

Harmful algal blooms are produced by a mix of nutrient excess, including phosphorus and nitrogen; warm temperatures, calm water conditions, and low-water or low-flow circumstances. The influence of warm weather means that summer is primetime for HAB growth. Factors like road salt and aging septic tanks around lakes and rivers can feed the growth of new blooms, as has been seen on Lake George and elsewhere in the Adirondacks.

Harmful algal blooms can appear in different forms. They can be soupy, streaked, or cloudy, usually displaying a pea-soup green. Anyone who spots what they believe to be a bloom in their local water body can use the DEC’s own reporting tools to contribute to the map, and help others avoid hazardous waters. The form asks reporters to identify where the bloom was found, whether it’s a public access point, and choose a description of the bloom from a category list. A photo of the bloom in question is also required.

The HAB map shows where blooms have been reported within the last two weeks, as well as older locations from across the season. Avoidance is encouraged for water bodies that show HAB presence. The map also breaks blooms down by size, presence of toxins, and who reported them.

The map doesn’t show everything, leaving out non-hazardous blooms and some blooms reported on Lake Champlain. Blooms from previous years are also omitted.

“As summer begins, we encourage New Yorkers to be on the lookout for HABs, which can impact New York’s lakes and waterways and pose a potential public health risk,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “Working closely with DOH and local partners in communities statewide, DEC continues to make significant investments to prevent excess nutrients and other contaminants from contributing to these potentially toxic blooms and is actively working to help New Yorkers understand how to identify and report HABs, as well as keep themselves, their families, and pets out of harm’s way.”