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Alkalinity - The alkalinity of a solution is the capacity for solutes it contains to react with and neutralize acid.

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. See also Water-quality guidelines and Water-quality criteria.

Bioaccumulation - The biological sequestering of a substance at a higher concentration than that at which it occurs in the surrounding environment or medium. Also, the process whereby a substance enters organisms through the gills, epithelial tissues, dietary, or other sources.

Confined aquifer (artesian aquifer) - An aquifer that is completely filled with water under pressure and that is overlain by material that restricts the movement of water.

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

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.

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.

Human health advisory - Guidance provided by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, State agencies or scientific organizations, in the absence of regulatory limits, to describe acceptable contaminant levels in drinking water or edible fish.

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.

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.

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.

Organochlorine compound - Synthetic organic compounds containing chlorine. As generally used, term refers to compounds containing mostly or exclusively carbon, hydrogen, and chlorine. Examples include organochlorine insecticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, and some solvents containing chlorine.

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

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) - A mixture of chlorinated derivatives of biphenyl, marketed under the trade name Aroclor with a number designating the chlorine content (such as Aroclor 1260). PCBs were used in transformers and capacitors for insulating purposes and in gas pipeline systems as a lubricant. Further sale for new use was banned by law in 1979.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) - A class of organic compounds with a fused-ring aromatic structure. PAHs result from incomplete combustion of organic carbon (including wood), municipal solid waste, and fossil fuels, as well as from natural or anthropogenic introduction of uncombusted coal and oil. PAHs include benzo(a)pyrene, fluoranthene, and pyrene.

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

Unconfined aquifer - An aquifer whose upper surface in a water table; an aquifer containing unconfined ground water.

Water-quality criteria - Specific levels of water quality which, if reached, are expected to render a body of water unsuitable for its designated use. Commonly refers to water-quality criteria established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Water-quality criteria are based on specific levels of contaminants that would make the water harmful if used for drinking, swimming, farming, fish production, or industrial processes.

Suspended sediment - Particles of rock, sand, soil, and organic detritus carried in suspension in the water column, in contrast to sediment that moves on or near the streambed.

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

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 1211

Suggested citation:

Stark, J.R., Hanson, P.E., Goldstein, R.M., Fallon, J.D., Fong, K.E., Lee, A.L., Kroening, S.E., and Andrews, W.J., 2000, Water Quality in the Upper Mississippi River Basin, Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Iowa, and North Dakota, 1995–98: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1211, 35 p., on-line at

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