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.

Basics

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
(2018-02-06)
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
(2017-10-10)
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
(2017-05-18)
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
(2017-05-18)
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
(2017-04-10)
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
(2017-03-06)
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
(2017-03-06)
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
(2017-03-06)
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
(2017-02-06)
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
(2017-02-06)
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

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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....

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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...

CI_Factsheet_2017_5_drywellprograms_170906_thumb.JPG

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...

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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

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...

Webinar
2018-10-18
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...

Webinar
2018-09-20
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...

Webinar
2018-11-15
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-...

Webinar
2018-08-30
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...

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...

Research Database Publications

Cover of USGS_wsp2347; Source: USGS
1988, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
The purpose of this report is to provide information that will help urban planners and officials identify and assess problems caused by urban stormwater runoff. It is intended to be a reference publication providing basic technical information and additional relevant material. Commonly used data-...
Cover of Scan_tceqr_rept.pdf; Source: Bureau of Economic Geology
2003, Bureau of Economic Geology (BEG)
Quantification of groundwater recharge is important for assessing aquifer vulnerability to contamination because most contaminant sources occur at or near the land surface and recharge rate, among other factors, determines the rate that contaminants can be transported to an aquifer. The purpose of...
Cover for GeoNote 17 ; Source: Idaho Geological Survey
1991, Idaho Geological Survey (IGS)
Agricultural injection wells, also known as drain wells, are principally used to dispose of runoff from gravity irrigation. They are drilled and constructed in much the same way as production wells. Their function, however, is to eliminate water by moving it into subsurface geological formations...
Cover of SIR2015-5057; Source: U.S. Geological Survey
2015, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Chloride (Cl-) concentrations and loads and other water chemistry characteristics were assessed to evaluate potential effects of road-deicer applications on streamwater quality in four watersheds along Interstate 95 (I–95) in southeastern Connecticut from November 1, 2008, through September 30,...
Cover for USGS FS 2014-3017 ; Source: USGS
2014, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Information concerning the availability, use, and quality of water in Orleans Parish, Louisiana, is critical for proper water-supply 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 vital...
Cover of IRR8 ; Source: Kansas Geological Survey
1985, Kansas Geological Survey (KGS)
Sandstone aquifers in southwestern Kansas are a source of water for irrigation, industrial, municipal, domestic, and stock uses. An appraisal of water resources in sandstone aquifers underlying approximately 17,400 mi2 in 26 counties of southwestern Kansas shows that in some areas water is still...
Cover of PP1660; Source: USGS
2002, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
The New Hampshire Bedrock Aquifer Assessment was designed to provide information that can be used by communities, industry, professional consultants, and other interests to evaluate the ground-water development potential of the fractured-bedrock aquifer in the State. The assessment was done at...
Cover of USGS_2015-1168; Source: U.S. Geological Survey
2015, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
In a study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in cooperation with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, water samples were collected from 4 production wells and 4 domestic wells in the Chemung River Basin, 8 production wells and 7 domestic wells in the Eastern...
Cover of TIS-57; Source: Iowa Geological Survey
2015, Iowa Geological Survey (IGS)
Studies in Iowa have long documented the vulnerability of wells with less than 50 feet (15 meters) of confining materials above the source aquifer to contamination from nitrate and various pesticides. Recent studies in Wisconsin have documented the occurrence of viruses in untreated groundwater,...
Cover of fs2016-3080; Image credit: U.S. Geological Survey
2016, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Groundwater provides nearly 50 percent of the Nation’s drinking water. To help protect this vital resource, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Project assesses groundwater quality in aquifers that are important sources of drinking water. The Basin and Range...