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...

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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: 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. Roger Lamb, the course presenter, provides information on the development of high resolution conceptual site models that can be used to guarantee the project goals are met. The...

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: 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. Roger Lamb, covers guidelines for using direct sensing tools such as the MIHPT...

Research Database Publications

Cover of UR-75 ; Source: South Dakota Geological Survey
1996, South Dakota Geological Survey (SDGS)
The investigation was conducted in June 1990 and May and June 1991 by the South Dakota Geological Survey, a program within the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, at the request of the Herrick town council. The purpose of the investigation was to determine concentrations of nitrate-...
Cover for USGS FS 2014-3096 ; Source: USGS
2014, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Groundwater provides more than 40 percent of California’s drinking water. To protect this vital resource, the State of California created the Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program. The Priority Basin Project (PBP) of the GAMA Program provides a comprehensive assessment of the...
Cover of RI 58 ; Source: Maryland Geological Survey
1993, Maryland Geological Survey (MGS)
A study was conducted to investigate the hydrogeology of the Coastal Plain aquifers of Harford County, Maryland. The study refined the hydrogeologic framework, assessed the potential for the aquifer system to meet projected pumpage requirements, and documented chemical quality of ground water.
Cover for USGS FS 2013-3042 ; Source: USGS
2014, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Arkansas is the fourth largest user of groundwater in the United States, where groundwater accounts for two-thirds of the total water use. Groundwater use in the State increased by 510 percent between 1965 and 2005 (Holland, 2007). The Arkansas Groundwater-Quality Network is a Web map interface (...
Cover of PP1813; Source: USGS
2015, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Mercury (Hg) is an element that occurs naturally, but evidence suggests that human activities have resulted in increased amounts being released to the atmosphere and land surface. When Hg is converted to methylmercury (MeHg) in aquatic ecosystems, MeHg accumulates and increases in the food web so...
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 PP1737; Source: USGS
2007, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
This study of the Transport of Anthropogenic and Natural Contaminants to public-supply wells (TANC study) is being conducted as part of the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program and was designed to increase understanding of the most important factors to consider...
Cover image for WFS 2008-9 ; Source: Iowa Geological Survey
2008, Iowa Geological Survey (IGS)
Water quality parameters for Iowa’s stream sites.
Cover of fs2017-3001; Image credit: U.S. Geological Survey
2017, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Groundwater provides more than 40 percent of California’s drinking water. To protect this vital resource, the State of California created the Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program. The Priority Basin Project of the GAMA Program provides a comprehensive assessment of the State...
Cover image for TIS-53 ; Source: Iowa Geological Survey
2007, Iowa Geological Survey (IGS)
The unnamed tributary of the west branch of Wapsinonoc Creek that runs through the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in eastern Iowa is referred to by project coordinators as "Hoover Creek". The Hoover Creek watershed has historically been dominated by agricultural landuse. However, in recent...