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Water Quality. Question: You can eliminate the harmful effects of pollutants by discharging them into water which dilutes the concentration of the pollutant. True or False?. Federal: Water quality is protected by the EPA, under the Clean Water Act of 1972 (CWA).

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Water Quality


You can eliminate the harmful effects of pollutants by discharging them into water which dilutes the concentration of the pollutant.

True or False?


Federal: Water quality is protected by the EPA,

under the Clean Water Act of 1972 (CWA).

State: State Water Resource Control Board (SWRCB)

Regional: Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board (SARWQCB)

County: Orange County Stormwater Program

City: NPDES- National Pollution Discharge Elimination System

Regulation – Clean Water Act


Poor Water Quality Use Impairment

  • Aquatic life toxicity
  • Suspended solids
  • Dissolved oxygen depletion
  • High Bacteria Levels
  • Trash
  • Impaired Beneficial Uses
  • Water contact recreation (swimming, surfing)
  • non-water contact recreation (fishing, boating)
  • municipal water supply
  • cold fresh water habitat

Water Quality in O.C.

There are 16 waterbodiesin Orange County

that are listed on the 303d List.

Impaired OC water bodies have high levels of nitrogen, phosphorous, total dissolved solids (including sediments), pH, pathogens, metals, PCB, DDT, etc. Additionally, sediments are heavily contaminated in most channels.

watershed condition
Watershed Condition

Monitoring Questions


What is the health of streams?



7-day Ceriodaphnia test

Surveys: SWAMP and CADF&G

California Rapid Assessment Method (CRAM)


Parameters to be measured


    • Total Coliform
    • Fecal Coliform
    • E.coli
    • Cadmium
    • Chromium
    • Lead
    • Zinc
    • Mercury
    • Nitrogen
    • Phosphorous
    • Ammonia
    • DDT
    • PCBs
    • Chlordane
    • Dieldrin
  • US
  • Temperature
  • Dissolved Oxygen
  • Nitrates and Phosphates
  • Ammonia
  • pH
  • Conductivity
  • Turbidity
  • Flow (qualitative)

Dissolved Oxygen

A relative measure of the amount of gaseous oxygen, in the form of microscopic bubbles, dissolved in the water.

Unit: mg/L

UNCE, Reno, NV


Why do we care? – D.O.

  • Fish and other aquatic life need certain amounts of DO.
  • Stressful conditions: < 5 mg/L
  • Oxygen in water affects solubility of metals and other chemicals

Influences/Sources – ↑ D.O.

  • Diffusion from the surrounding air
  • Aeration (rapid movement of water)
  • Produced by algae & aquatic plants

Influences/Sources – ↓ D.O.

  • Natural causes:
    • Uptake by organisms
    • Natural increases in temperature
    • Quiet water (low re-oxygenation)
  • Human causes:
    • Any source of biological material that will decay in water
    • High temperatures or low flows
    • Excessive plant growth in water (Nutrients!)


A measure of how hot or cold something is. On a molecular level, it is a measure of energy. The higher the temperature or the more energy they have, thefaster particles move.

Units of measurement: Celsius vs. Fahrenheit?

UNCE, Reno, NV


Why do we care? – Temp.

  • When Water Temperature Increases 
  • Dissolved Oxygen: Decreases
  • Conductivity: Increases
  • Animal/Plant Life: Increase in activity; spawning. * Too high: may be fatal
  • Metals/Toxic Compounds: Increase in toxicity to wildlife
  • Bacteria: Increases populations

Influences/Sources – Temp.

  • Natural causes:
  • Seasons
  • Length of river
  • Location of river
  • Hot springs
  • Human causes:
  • Removal of streamside vegetation (shade)
  • Runoff over concrete and other heated surfaces
  • Changes in stream shape
  • Reductions in flow
  • Industrial discharges



The cloudiness of water resulting from the amount of particles suspended in the water. The more difficult it is to see through the water, the more turbid the water.


Why do we care? Turbidity

  • Impacts of sediments in streams and lakes:
  • Can fill space between cobble in stream and smother fish eggs and tiny aquatic life
  • Very cloudy water affects visual predators
  • Sediments fill in reservoirs
  • Sediments bring nutrients, metals, and more into water

InNewport Bay, high turbidity restricts the growth and survival of eelgrass.


Influences/Sources - Turbidity

  • Natural causes:
  • Natural “reworking” of flood plain
  • Remobilized sediment under high flows
  • Seasonal effects
  • Human causes:
  • Stream bank erosion
  • Boating, Dredging
  • Runoff (construction, agriculture, forestry, mining, residential)


Nitrates & Phosphates


Nitrogen-containing compounds act as nutrients in streams and rivers.

[PO4 3‐]

An essential nutrient for aquatic plants and animals.

UNCE, Reno, NV


Why do we care? - ↑ Nutrients

In a natural stream, nutrient cycles help to keep the ecosystem balanced and healthy.

But higher nutrient levels can cause negative effects on stream ecosystems.


Why do we care? - ↑ Nutrients

  • Phosphate is limiting nutrient in freshwater
  • Nitrate is limiting nutrient in freshwater
  • Increased growth of aquatic plants → algal blooms
  • Decreased DO levels → fish kills
  • How much is too much?
  • - Nitrate:
  • 10mg/L
  • - Phosphate:
  • 0.1 mg/L

Why do we care: Eutrophication

A condition in which algae and aquatic plants will grow wildly (bloom) because of the availability of “food”, choke up the waterway, and use large amounts of oxygen.


“Dead Zones” = water at the sea floor is anoxic — it has very low (or completely zero) concentrations of dissolved oxygen.

Fertilizer runoff

Higher Nutrients in Water

Explosion in phytoplankton growth

More organic matter sinks to bottom

Bacteria deplete oxygen levels


Influences/Sources – [NO3], [PO43-]

  • Natural causes:
    • Seasonal changes
    • Plant uptake
  • Human causes:
  • Land uses in the watershed
    • Fertilizers, animal manure
    • Discharges from sewage facilities and acid precipitation
    • Synthetic detergents (Phosphate)


A nitrogen-containing nutrient used for plant growth.

Sources:Domestic, industrial,

and agricultural pollutants such

as fertilizers or organic matter.

Effects:In excess, it is highly toxic

to aquatic life.

How much is too much? 0.09mg/L

Brain Teaser: In nature, ammonia quickly oxidizes to form nitrates. If you found high levels of ammonia in a creek, what could this fact tell you about what’s going on?



the level of acidity or alkalinity in a solution

pH Scale:

Pure Hydrochloric Acid

Baking Soda

Pure Sodium Hydroxide

Vinegar, Wine, Orange Juice






Sea Water

Gastric Fluids

Lemon Juice

Household Ammonia

Oven Cleaner


Why do we care? - pH

  • Low pH can affect membranes
  • (eg. gills of fish or macroinvertebrates and eggs)
  • At low pH, causes some metals to dissolve into a more toxic form
  • At high pH, ammonia is more toxic

Influences/Sources - pH

Natural causes:

Rain is naturally acidic

Rapid snow melt

Photosynthesis in water  higher pH

Human causes:

Combustion causes acids in the atmosphere

 acid precipitation

Industrial discharge

Mine drainage


Total Coliform:

Testing for Bacteria

  • A group of relatively harmless bacteria commonly found in the environment

a subgroup of total coliform that appear in great quantities in the intestines and feces of people and animals.

Fecal Coliform:

a subgroup of fecal coliform found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals.  Some strains cause illness. 


Using Indicators: When it is expensive and difficult to test for one strain of bacteria, detection of a designated group can indicate the presence of disease-causing strains.



  • Sources:
  • Copper dust from brake pads
  • Copper/Zinc boat bottom paint
  • Mining/Industrial activities
  • Improper disposal of hazardous waste
  • Smoke stack emissions
  • Metals attach to sediment and enter waterways
  • Impacts:
  • Toxic metals (e.g. cadmium, lead, copper, zinc, mercury) accumulate in aquatic organisms
  • Die-offs, accumulation up the food chain, potentially affecting humans
  • Lower pH levels  increases toxicity of certain metals


A measure of the ability of water to pass an electrical current.

  • What affects conductivity?
  • Inorganic dissolved solids such as:
    • Chloride, nitrate, sulfate, and phosphate anions (ions that carry a negative charge)
    • Sodium, calcium, iron, and aluminum cations(ions with a positive charge).
  • Temperature: warmer water  higher conductivity
  • Geologyof the area
  • Human Sources: sewage spills, industrial discharges

Units of measurement: microsiemens (µS/cm) or millisiemens (mS/cm)

1,000µS/cm = 1 mS/cm

  • So what does it really mean?
  • Normal range of conductivity in U.S. streams is between 50 – 1500 µS/cm
  • Streams supporting good fisheries range between 150 – 500 µS/cm