Water quality

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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.

Why does water quality matter?

Survey of water quality in a mine water filtration pond. Credit: Photo by Ron Nichols, courtesy of USDA NRCS

Contaminants are harmful to human health, especially to vulnerable populations such as the elderly or the very young. The quality of a stream or wetland affects everyone's health, from the plants and animals that live in it to the people who live downstream. If water is unsuitable for a particular purpose, we have to find alternative resources, sometimes at high cost.

How does geoscience help inform decisions on water quality?

A woman pours herself a glass of water. Credit: EPA

Hydrologists, environmental engineers, and geologists monitor the quality of surface water and ground water for society's needs, especially for human consumption. They find the origin of natural and man-made contaminants, and determine ways to remove them.

Introductory resources

A basic overview of water quality, how it is measured, and how natural and human processes affect it.​


  1. U.S. Geological Survey, 2001, "A Primer on Water Quality, " http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/fs-027-01/

See also

External links

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Water quality
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