Water Quality

Water quality refers to whether water is suitable for a certain purpose, like drinking or irrigation. Both natural and man-made factors can affect water quality. Contaminants can include bacteria, metals, and man-made chemicals like pesticides or pharmaceutical drugs.


Water sampling for quality assessment in Pakistan. Image Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Water quality is a measurement of how suitable water is for a particular use, like drinking or irrigation. Drinking water quality standards are based on the health effects that are likely to occur if a person is exposed to poor water. Industrial or agricultural water supplies will require different water standards. Water contaminants can be natural or man-made. Contaminants can include bacteria, metals, and man-made chemicals like pesticides or pharmaceutical drugs. Other natural properties of water can affect its quality, such as pH and dissolved minerals (such as salts or calcium).[1] Contamination can also alter these natural properties.   Read more

Frequently Asked Questions

American Geosciences Institute
American Geosciences Institute
American Geosciences Institute

Latest News

Atlean Lake in British Columbia
September 27, 2017 In recent years, massive harmful algal blooms (HABs) have devastated critical habitats along the Florida coasts and Great Lakes. These phenomena can cause significant “dead zones” and disastrous consequences for ecosystems and economies, resulting in economic losses from multi-...
Atlean Lake in British Columbia
April 26, 2017 On April 26, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) held an oversight hearing to review the Obama Administration’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. The WOTUS rule, also known as the Clean Water Rule, was established to provide a more clear definition of...
Atlean Lake in British Columbia
April 4, 2017 The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) hosted a briefing on April 4 to discuss the economic and public health impacts of harmful algal blooms. An algal bloom is a rapid accumulation of algae in freshwater or marine systems. It can be caused by various different species, both harmful and...
Atlean Lake in British Columbia
March 16, 2017 Representative Scott Peters (D-CA-52) introduced the Secure and Resilient Water Systems Act (H.R.1579) on March 16. The bill would help communities protect their drinking water systems from drought, industrial pollution, and potential attacks. The bill amends the Safe Drinking Water...
IES Water Glyph
February 15, 2017 On February 15, Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ-6) introduced an amendment  (H.R.1068) to the Safe Drinking Water Act, which was last amended in 1996. H.R.1068 would update laws, direct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set deadlines for the development of new...
Nuclear power plant, Czech Republic
February 16, 2017 Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-PA-12) introduced legislation (H.R.1119) to modify existing regulations applying to coal-refuse-to-energy power plants on February 16. The bill acts to exempt these specific power plants from emission standards required under the Environmental Protection...
IES Water Glyph
February 7, 2017 Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) introduced the Sensible Environment Protection Act (S.340) on February 7. The act will remove an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation requiring permits for pesticide spraying over or near waterways. This bill will...
Salt marsh near Pescadero, California
January 30, 2017 On January 30, the House passed Joint Resolutions H.J.Res.38 and H.J.Res.36, expressing disapproval of the Stream Protection Rule and a rule regulating natural gas leaks. These Department of Interior (DOI) regulations are subject to termination under the Congressional Review Act....
IES Water Glyph
January 11, 2017 Representatives David Trott (R-MI-11), Debbie Dingell (D-MI-12), and Jack Bergman (R-MI-1) introduced the “Preserve Our Lakes and Keep Our Environment Safe Act” (H.R. 458) on January 11. This bill calls on the Department of Transportation (DOT) to conduct a study assessing...
An earthquake-resistant pipeline crossing the San Andreas Fault at Cholame, California. Image Copyright © Michael Collier http://www.earthscienceworld.org/images
On Thursday and Friday, December 1-2, the National Academies' Roundtable on Unconventional Hydrocarbons held a workshop on Unconventional Hydrocarbon Development: Legacy Issues, Induced Seismicity, and Innovations in Managing Risk. The meeting brought together experts from industry, academia, state...

Case Studies & Factsheets


Why water storage? A reliable water supply is essential for economic, environmental, and public health, but natural water supplies vary with the seasons and between years. Water storage, whether in reservoir lakes or underground, helps to ensure that water is available even during droughts....


The Need for Groundwater Management: Sustaining water supplies and preventing hazards In California, surface water from rainfall, snowmelt, and distant rivers rarely meets the state’s urban and agricultural water needs. Groundwater is an essential water source, providing 35% of the fresh water...


Introduction Dry wells improve stormwater drainage and aquifer recharge by providing a fast, direct route for rainwater to drain deep into underlying sediment and rock. Dry wells are most common in the western U.S. where clay or caliche layers slow down the natural drainage of water into...


What is a Dry Well? A dry well is a well that is used to transmit surface water underground and is deeper than its width at the surface (see image, below). Most dry wells are 30 to 70 feet deep and 3 feet wide at the surface. They are lined with perforated casings and can be filled with gravel...

Fig. 1 - The geologic map of part of the Pell City quadrangle, AL, accurately identifies the recharge area of the Fort Payne Chert aquifer (medium blue) that must be protected from pollution. Credit: W. Thomas

Defining the Problem In central Alabama, the Mississippian-age Fort Payne Chert is an important aquifer for domestic and municipal water supplies. Rainfall recharges groundwater where the chert is exposed at the land surface. Where the chert has been quarried, many of the abandoned pits have...

Research Database Publications

Cover image for RIFS-2011-02 ; Source: Iowa Geological Survey
2011, Iowa Geological Survey (IGS)
Groundwater is an important resource for Iowa. Groundwater comprises 79% of our public drinking water systems and is an essential resource for many of Iowa’s businesses, farms, and agricultural commodities (Prior et al., 2003). As stewards of this resource, all responsible agencies, as well as the...
Cover of OFR93-1 ; Source: Kansas Geological Survey
1993, Kansas Geological Survey (KGS)
The Dakota aquifer system, which underlies much of western Kansas, is becoming an increasingly important water resource. Local depletion of shallower freshwater aquifers in central and western Kansas is creating a demand for water supplies from the underlying Dakota aquifer. Information on the...
Cover of Bull34 ; Source: Maryland Geological Survey
1988, Maryland Geological Survey (MGS)
This report describes the results of a study of the ground- and surface-water resources of Cecil County, northeastern Maryland. Because of geologic differences, the county has two distinct types of terrane- the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain- that affect its water resources.
Cover of fs2016-3087; Image credit: U.S. Geological Survey
2016, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Ohio’s water resources support a complex web of human activities and nature—clean and abundant water is needed for drinking, recreation, farming, and industry, as well as for fish and wildlife needs. Although rainfall in normal years can support these activities and needs, occasional floods and...
Cover of SIR2015-5086; Source: U.S. Geological Survey
2015, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Stakeholders and water-resource managers in Lincoln County, New Mexico, have had long-standing concerns over the impact of population growth and groundwater withdrawals. These concerns have been exacerbated in recent years by extreme drought conditions and two major wildfires in the upper Rio Hondo...
Cover of OFR14-03 ; Source: Minnesota Geological Survey
2014, Minnesota Geological Survey (MGS)
This report summarizes the results of part of a Minnesota Geological Survey (MGS) investigation conducted for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) designed to support watershed planning efforts in southeast Minnesota. The broader project provides better understanding of the geologic...
Cover of fs2016-3048; Image credit: U.S. Geological Survey
2016, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Information concerning the availability, use, and quality of water in Livingston Parish, Louisiana, is critical for proper water-resource management. The purpose of this fact sheet is to present information that can be used by water managers, parish residents, and others for stewardship of this...
Cover of OFR03-54 ; Source: Kansas Geological Survey
2003, Kansas Geological Survey (KGS)
The High Plains aquifer is the most intensely pumped aquifer in the United States, yielding about 30 percent of the nation's ground water used for irrigation. The region accounts for about 19 percent of total U.S. production of wheat and of cotton, 15 percent of our corn, and 3 percent of our...
Cover of UR-69 ; Source: South Dakota Geological Survey
1994, South Dakota Geological Survey (SDGS)
The Tripp County Water User District has four production wells located approximately 9 miles south of the city of Winner, South Dakota. Due to increased demand for water, the Division of Geological Survey, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, was contacted in November 1991 to...
Cover for USGS FS 2014-3094 ; Source: USGS
2014, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
The central Platte River is an important resource in Nebraska. Its water flows among multiple channels and supports numerous beneficial uses such as drinking water, irrigation for agriculture, groundwater recharge, and recreational activities. The central Platte River valley is an important...