Recent attempts to control cultural eutrophication in nitrogen-limited systems have focused on the simultaneous control of all forms of nitrogen with the underlying assumption that inorganic and organic nitrogen are equally bioavailable. To assess the validity of this assumption, algal growth bioassays were conducted on denitrified wastewater effluent samples, in the presence and absence of bacteria isolated from an effluent-receiving surface water. Bioassay results indicated that wastewater-derived dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) is not bioavailable to the algae Selenastrum Capricornutum in the absence of bacteria. However, approximately half of the wastewater-derived organic nitrogen was available to the algae in the presence of bacteria during a 2-week incubation. These results suggest that while it is inappropriate to assume that wastewater-derived DON cannot cause cultural eutrophication, it will not cause as much eutrophication as inorganic nitrogen. Additional research is needed to develop methods of minimizing the discharge of bioavailable forms of wastewater-derived organic nitrogen by wastewater treatment plants. (C) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.