Water Quality

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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

U.S. Supreme Court building
January 31, 2018 On January 22, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that any challenges to the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule must be filed in federal district courts, not federal courts of appeals. Since the WOTUS Rule was finalized in 2015, dozens of parties filed lawsuits in both...
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...

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...

GOLI Online Courses

Course Type: Webinar

The glacial and bedrock geology of New England is varied and complex.  We will take you on a journey through the formation of these geological features and then provide information on why a groundwater well in this geological terrane needs to be re-developed and how we know when a well needs to...

Course Type: Webinar

A groundwater well is a lifeline for many people and communities.  It will provide drinking water for decades, if it is properly maintained.  Just like your teeth need to be cleaned by the dentist and the oil in your car’s engine needs to be changed to maintain a long and healthy life, so does...

Course Type: Webinar

There is no magic method to clean a well.  There are many techniques, some that have been used for decades, others are fairly recent.  The objective of the re-development is to return the well to its condition when it was installed.  We introduced the term Specific Capacity in an earlier session...

GOLI Course: Desalination as a Source of Fresh Water; Image credit: James Grellier, Licensed under Creative Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) via Wikimedia Commons.
Course Type: GOLI Online Course

Fresh water is an increasingly scarce resource in an increasingly populous and water-intensive world. Maintaining an adequate supply of fresh water both nationally and globally will be one of the largest challenges of the 21st century. Desalination of salty water – from both the ocean and the...

GOLI Course: Techniques for Developing High Resolution LNAPL Conceptual Site Models; Image courtesy of Roger Lamb
Course Type: GOLI Online Course

This course is intended for geologists involved in Light Non-Aqueous Phase Liquid (LNAPL) assessment and remediation. This course provides information on the development of high resolution conceptual site models that can be used to guarantee the project goals are met. The class will cover...

GOLI Course: Converting Membrane Interface Probe Sensor Results into VOC NAPL Distribution Information. Image courtesy of Roger Lamb
Course Type: GOLI Online Course

This course will focus on how to use Membrane Interface Probe sensor results in combination with soil and groundwater analytical results to map the distribution of volatile organic chemical non aqueous phase liquids. This course covers guidelines for using direct sensing tools such as the MIHPT...

Course Type: Webinar

Depending upon how you have maintained your well, the costs for re-development will vary. For example, for a well that has not been maintained, the costs and methods for re-development can be very high. For well-maintained wells, re-development costs should be less. Remember that part of the re-...

Research Database Publications

Cover of RI 41 ; Source: Maryland Geological Survey
1985, Maryland Geological Survey (MGS)
Recent increased demand for coal is expected to increase surface and underground mining activities in the coal basins of western Maryland. This report describes preliminary findings on the hydrogeologic system in southwestern Garrett County, Maryland, where a large underground coal-mining operation...
Cover image for WFS 2009-3 ; Source: Iowa Geological Survey
2009, Iowa Geological Survey (IGS)
Water quality parameters for Iowa’s stream sites.
Cover image for WFS 2001-6 ; Source: Iowa Geological Survey
2001, Iowa Geological Survey (IGS)
The year 2000 marked a dramatic increase in the monitoring of surface-water quality in the State of Iowa. For the first time, the Governor and the Legislature appropriated state money to assess Iowa's streams and rivers. The new state program will greatly improve the understanding and knowledge of...
Cover image for WFS 2006-7 ; Source: Iowa Geological Survey
2006, Iowa Geological Survey (IGS)
For several years now, many groups of people ranging from outdoor enthusiasts to scientists have voiced concerns about the quality of wetlands in Iowa. Although Iowa’s streams, lakes, and rivers have been monitored for many years, wetlands have largely been ignored due to their lack of popularity...
Cover for USGS FS 2013-3076 ; Source: USGS
2014, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
This fact sheet presents a brief overview of groundwater and surface-water resources in Cameron Parish, Louisiana. Information on the availability, use, and quality of water from groundwater and surface-water sources in the parish is discussed. Previously published reports and data stored in the U....
Cover of OFR566; Source: New Mexico Bureau of Geology & Mineral Resources
2014, New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources (NMBGMR)
Here, we summarize our assessment of the impact of unconventional oil and gas exploration and development on groundwater supply sustainability in the San Juan Basin (SJB). The measurement of actual water use in the SJB is difficult, so we tackle this problem using three indirect approaches. First,...
Cover of Water Hardness factsheet; Image credit: The Geological Society
2016, The Geological Society of London (GSL)
Have you ever noticed that tap water tastes different depending on where you are? Have you ever seen a white coating inside your kettle or the shower head, or found that the shower gel won't lather up? All these effects are caused by differences in the 'hardness' of the water. This factsheet was...
Cover of UR-79 ; Source: South Dakota Geological Survey
1996, South Dakota Geological Survey (SDGS)
The investigation was conducted in May 1982, May 1983, and June 1984, by the South Dakota Geological Survey, a program within the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, at the request of the East Gregory Rural Water District. The purpose of the investigation was to assist the water...
Cover of UR-83 ; Source: South Dakota Geological Survey
1997, South Dakota Geological Survey (SDGS)
During the summer of 1982, the South Dakota Geological Survey conducted a study for the city of Garretson, South Dakota. The purpose of this investigation was to determine potential sources of ground water within a radius of approximately 5 miles from the city, excluding the land in Minnesota....
Cover of WRI_94-4192; Source: USGS
1994, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
This report, written for the nontechnical reader, summarizes the results of a study from 1988-91 of the occurrence and transport of selected radionuclides and other chemical constituents in the Puerco and Little Colorado River basins, Arizona and New Mexico. More than two decades of uranium mining...