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Aquatic-life criteria—Water-quality guidelines for protection of aquatic life. Often refers to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency water-quality criteria for protection of aquatic organisms.

Aquifer—A water-bearing layer of soil, sand, gravel, or rock that will yield usable quantities of water to a well.

Basic Fixed Sites—Sites on streams at which streamflow is measured and samples are collected for temperature, salinity, suspended sediment, major ions and metals, nutrients, and organic carbon to assess the broad-scale spatial and temporal character and transport of inorganic constituents of stream water in relation to hydrologic conditions and environmental settings.

Bed sediment—The material that temporarily is stationary in the bottom of a stream or other watercourse.

Bed sediment and tissue studies—Assessment of concentrations and distributions of trace elements and hydrophobic organic contaminants in streambed sediment and tissues of aquatic organisms to identify potential sources and to assess spatial distribution.

Benthic invertebrates—Insects, mollusks, crustaceans, worms, and other organisms without a backbone that live in, on, or near the bottom of lakes, streams, or oceans.

Constituent—A chemical or biological substance in water, sediment, or biota that can be measured by an analytical method.

Contamination—Degradation of water quality compared to original or natural conditions and due to human activity.

Cubic foot per second (ft3/s, or cfs)—Rate of water discharge representing a volume of 1 cubic foot passing a given point during 1 second, equivalent to approximately 7.48 gallons per second or 448.8 gallons per minute or 0.02832 cubic meter per second.

Degradation products—Compounds resulting from transformation of an organic substance through chemical, photochemical, and/or biochemical reactions.

Detection limit—The minimum concentration of a substance that can be identified, measured, and reported within 99 percent confidence that the analyte concentration is greater than zero; determined from analysis of a sample in a given matrix containing the analyte.

Discharge—Rate of fluid flow passing a given point at a given moment in time, expressed as volume per unit of time.

Drainage area—The drainage area of a stream at a specified location is that area, measured in a horizontal plane, which is enclosed by a drainage divide.

Drinking-water standard or guideline—A threshold concentration in a public drinking-water supply, designed to protect human health. As defined here, standards are U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations that specify the maximum contamination levels for public water systems required to protect the public welfare; guidelines have no regulatory status and are issued in an advisory capacity.

Indicator sites—Stream sampling sites located at outlets of drainage basins with relatively homogeneous land use and physiographic conditions; most indicator-site basins have drainage areas ranging from 20 to 200 square miles.

Integrator or Mixed-use site—Stream sampling site located at an outlet of a drainage basin that contains multiple environmental settings. Most integrator sites are on major streams with relatively large drainage areas.

Intensive Fixed Sites—Basic Fixed Sites with increased sampling frequency during selected seasonal periods and analysis of dissolved pesticides for 1 year. Most NAWQA Study Units have one to two integrator Intensive Fixed Sites and one to four indicator Intensive Fixed Sites.

Karst—A type of topography that results from dissolution and collapse of carbonate rocks such as limestone and dolomite, and characterized by closed depressions or sinkholes, caves, and underground drainage.

Load—General term that refers to a material or constituent in solution, in suspension, or in transport; usually expressed in terms of mass or volume.

Main stem—The principal course of a river or a stream.

Metamorphic rock—Rock that has formed in the solid state in response to pronounced changes of temperature, pressure, and chemical environment.

Micrograms per liter (µg/L)—A unit expressing the concentration of constituents in solution as weight (micrograms) of solute per unit volume (liter) of water; equivalent to one part per billion in most stream water and ground water. One thousand micrograms per liter equals 1 mg/L.

Milligrams per liter (mg/L)—A unit expressing the concentration of chemical constituents in solution as weight (milligrams) of solute per unit volume (liter) of water; equivalent to one part per million in most stream water and ground water.

Nonpoint source—A pollution source that cannot be defined as originating from discrete points such as pipe discharge. Areas of fertilizer and pesticide applications, atmospheric deposition, manure, and natural inputs from plants and trees are types of nonpoint source pollution.

Point source—A source at a discrete location such as a discharge pipe, drainage ditch, tunnel, well, concentrated livestock operation, or floating craft.

Synoptic sites—Sites sampled during a short-term investigation of specific water-quality conditions during selected seasonal or hydrologic conditions to provide improved spatial resolution for critical water-quality conditions.

Tributary— A river or stream flowing into a larger river, stream, or lake.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—Organic chemicals that have a high vapor pressure relative to their water solubility. VOCs include components of gasoline, fuel oils, and lubricants, as well as organic solvents, fumigants, some inert ingredients in pesticides, and some by-products of chlorine disinfection.

Water-quality standards—State-adopted and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-approved ambient standards for water bodies. Standards include the use of the water body and the water-quality criteria that must be met to protect the designated use or uses.

Water table—The point below the land surface where ground water is first encountered and below which the earth is saturated. Depth to the water table varies widely across the country.

Yield—The mass of material or constituent transported by a river in a specified period of time divided by the drainage area of the river basin.

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U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1205

Suggested citation:

Hampson, P.S., Treece, M.W. Jr., Johnson, G.C., Ahlstedt, S.A., and Connell, J.F., 2000, Water Quality in the Upper Tennessee River Basin, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia 1994–98: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1205, 32 p., on-line at

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