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

Climate and Weather glyph
August 28, 2019 On August 28, the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard held a hearing on U.S. Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) events and the status of the algal-bloom research, technology, and monitoring techniques. HABs are overgrown colonies of harmful algae...
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....

Case Studies & Factsheets

Cover of Spills in Oil and Natural Gas Fields

Introduction Oilfield spills can harm wildlife and pose a risk to human health if they reach fresh water sources or contaminate soil or air. The enormous size of the oil and gas industry and the huge volumes of oil and produced water that are handled, stored, and transported result in thousands...

Cover of Heavy Oil

Introduction Naturally occurring crude oil comes in many forms. The most familiar to many people is light crude oil, which is less dense than water and flows easily at room temperature. Heavy oil and bitumen are forms of crude oil that are more viscous (thicker) and dense. The largest crude oil...


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...


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...

Cover of Petroleum and the Environment - an Introduction

Introduction When oil and gas were first extracted and used on an industrial scale in the 19th century, they provided significant advantages over existing fuels: they were cleaner, easier to transport, and more versatile than coal and biomass (wood, waste, and whale oil). Diesel and gasoline...

Cover of Abandoned Wells

Introduction In 2017, there were one million active oil and gas wells in the United States.1 When a well reaches the end of its productive life, or if it fails to find economic quantities of oil or gas, the well operator is required by regulators to remove all equipment and plug the well to...

Cover of Geoscientists in Petroleum and the Environment

Introduction Geoscience – the study of the Earth – underpins our understanding of the many intersections between petroleum and the environment, from the search for resources to the study of air pollutants. Without the work of geoscientists, we would have neither the energy system nor the...


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...

Cover of Groundwater Protection in Oil and Gas Production

Introduction The United States relies on groundwater for roughly 25% of its fresh water.1 This groundwater is found in porous, permeable rocks (aquifers) that often lie close to the Earth’s surface – the deepest freshwater aquifers are found more than 6,000 feet underground,2 but most are much...


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....

Cover of Water in the Oil and Gas Industry

Introduction The oil and gas industry consumes and produces water. Water is used to drill and hydraulically fracture (“frack”) wells, refine and process oil and gas, and produce electricity in some natural gas power plants. Water is also naturally present in the rocks that contain oil and gas...

Cover of Using Produced Water

Opportunities and Concerns in Using Produced Water Produced water is natural groundwater that is extracted along with oil and gas. It is commonly salty and mixed with oil residues,1 so it must be either disposed of or treated and reused. About 2.5 billion gallons of produced water are extracted...

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...

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GOLI Online Courses

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...

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: 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...

Course catalog image for Well Development in New England GOLI course. Courtesy: Ted Morine
Course Type: GOLI Online Course

This course is designed to provide water utility personnel, engineers, hydrogeologists, regulatory officials, and other interested persons an understanding about the sand and gravel and bedrock aquifers in New England, how and why well performance declines over time, and information about...

Geological Surveys Database Publications

1997, Maryland Geological Survey
Calvert County and St. Mary's County are rapidly growing areas located in southern Maryland. The Aquia aquifer and the Piney Point-Nanjemoy aquifer are the chief sources of ground water in the two-county area. In 1994 withdrawals from the Piney Point-Nanjemoy aquifer totaled about l.9 million...
1993, Maryland Geological Survey
Ocean City, Maryland, is a coastal resort on the Atlantic Ocean. The town 's public-water supply is provided by the Ocean CityManokin aquifer system, which in 1990 supplied about 2,000 million gallons of water to the town. The uppermost aquifer at Ocean City is the unconfined to semiconfined...
2003, United States Geological Survey

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1980, Pennsylvania Geological Survey

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1996, United States Geological Survey

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1996, United States Geological Survey

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1998, United States Geological Survey

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1998, United States Geological Survey

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1998, United States Geological Survey

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