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Acre-foot—A volume of water equal to 1 foot in depth and covering 1 acre; equivalent to 43,560 cubic feet or 325,851 gallons.

Algae—Chlorophyll-bearing nonvascular, primarily aquatic species that have no true roots, stems, or leaves; most algae are microscopic, but some species can be as large as vascular plants.

Alluvial aquifer—A water-bearing deposit of unconsolidated material (sand and gravel) left behind by a river or other flowing water.

Alluvium—A general term for clay, silt, sand, and gravel deposited by a river or stream in the bed of the stream or on its flood plain.

Ammonia—A compound of nitrogen and hydrogen (NH3) that is a common by-product of animal waste. Ammonia readily converts to nitrate in soils and streams.

Aquatic guidelines—Specific levels of water quality which, if reached, may adversely affect aquatic life. These are nonenforceable guidelines issued by a governmental agency or other institution.

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

Base flow—Sustained, low flow in a stream; ground-water discharge is the source of base flow in most places.

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

Breakdown product—A compound derived by chemical, biological, or physical action upon a pesticide. The breakdown is a natural process which may result in a more toxic or a less toxic compound and a more or less persistent compound.

Concentration—The amount or mass of a substance present in a given volume or mass of sample. Usually expressed as micrograms per liter (water sample) or micrograms per kilogram (sediment or tissue sample).

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 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.

Degradate—See Breakdown product.

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 basin—The portion of the surface of the Earth that contributes water to a stream through overland run-off, including tributaries and impoundments.

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.

Ecoregion—An area of similar climate, landform, soil, potential natural vegetation, hydrology, or other ecologically relevant variables.

EPT richness index—An index based on the sum of the number of taxa in three insect orders, Ephemeroptera (mayflies), Plecoptera (stoneflies), and Trichoptera (caddisflies), that are composed primarily of species considered to be relatively intolerant to environmental alterations.

Eutrophication—The process by which water becomes enriched with plant nutrients, most commonly phosphorus and nitrogen.

Ground water—In general, any water that exists beneath the land surface, but more commonly applied to water in fully saturated soils and geologic formations.

Habitat—The part of the physical environment where plants and animals live.

Hypoxia—Seasonally depleted dissolved oxygen concentrations (less than 2 milligrams per liter) in a water body.

Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI)—An aggregated number, or index, based on several attributes or metrics of a fish community that provides an assessment of biological conditions.

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 100 to about 400 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.

Intolerant organisms—Organisms that are not adaptable to human alterations to the environment and thus decline in numbers where human alterations occur. See also Tolerant species.

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.

Leaching—Refers to movement of pesticides or nutrients from land surface to ground water.

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.

Loess—Homogeneous, fine-grained sediment made up primarily of silt and clay, and deposited over a wide area (probably by wind).

Maximum contaminant level (MCL)—Maximum permissible level of a contaminant in water that is delivered to any user of a public water system. MCLs are enforceable standards established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Median—The middle or central value in a distribution of data ranked in order of magnitude. The median is also known as the 50th percentile.

Monitoring well—A well designed for measuring water levels and testing ground-water quality.

Mouth—The place where a stream discharges to a larger stream, a lake, or the sea.

Nutrient—Element or compound essential for animal and plant growth. Common nutrients in fertilizer include nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

Overland flow—The part of surface runoff flowing over land surfaces toward stream channels.

Periphyton—Organisms that grow on underwater surfaces; periphyton include algae, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and other organisms.

Pesticide—A chemical applied to crops, rights-of-way, lawns, or residences to control weeds, insects, fungi, nematodes, rodents or other "pests."

Physiography—A description of the surface features of the Earth, with an emphasis on the origin of landforms.

Plankton—Floating or weakly swimming organisms at the mercy of the waves and currents. Animals of the group are called zooplankton and the plants are called phytoplankton.

Radon—A naturally occurring, colorless, odorless, radioactive gas formed by the disintegration of the element radium; damaging to human lungs when inhaled.

Recharge—Water that infiltrates the ground and reaches the saturated zone.

Reference site—A NAWQA sampling site selected for its relatively undisturbed conditions. Riparian zone—Pertaining to or located on the bank of a body of water, especially a stream.

Runoff—Excess rainwater or snowmelt that is transported to streams by overland flow, tile drains, or ground water.

Species diversity—An ecological concept that incorporates both the number of species in a particular sampling area and the evenness with which individuals are distributed among the various species.

Species (taxa) richness—The number of species (taxa) present in a defined area or sampling unit.

Study Unit—A major hydrologic system of the United States in which NAWQA studies are focused. Study Units are geographically defined by a combination of ground- and surface-water features and generally encompass more than 4,000 square miles of land area.

Tile drain—A buried perforated pipe designed to remove excess water from soils.

Tolerant species—Those species that are adaptable to (tolerant of) human alterations to the environment and often increase in number when human alterations occur.

Total concentration— Refers to the concentration of a constituent regardless of its form (dissolved or bound) in a sample.

Triazine herbicide—A class of herbicides containing a symmetrical triazine ring (a nitrogen-heterocyclic ring composed of three nitrogens and three carbons in an alternating sequence). Examples include atrazine, propazine, and simazine.

Tritium—A radioactive form of hydrogen with atoms of three times the mass of ordinary hydrogen; can be used to determine the age of water.

Unconsolidated deposit—Deposit of loosely bound sediment that typically fills topographically low areas.

Urban site—A site that has greater than 50 percent urbanized and less than 25 percent agricultural area.

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.

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U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1210

Suggested citation:

Kalkhoff, S.J., Barnes, K.K., Becher, K.D., Savoca, M.E., Schnoebelen, D.J., Sadorf, E.M., Porter, S.D., and Sullivan, D.J., 2000, Water Quality in the Eastern Iowa Basins, Iowa and Minnesota, 1996–98: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1210, 37 p., on-line at

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