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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.

Alluvium—Deposits of clay, silt, sand, gravel or other particulate rock material left by a river in a streambed, on a flood plain, delta, or at the base of a mountain.

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

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-life guideline— 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.

Basin— See Drainage basin.

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.

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.

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 persistent or less persistent compound.

Chlorofluorocarbons— A class of volatile compounds consisting of carbon, chlorine, and fluorine. Commonly called freons, which have been used in refrigeration mechanisms, as blowing agents in the fabrication of flexible and rigid foams, and, until several years ago, as propellants in spray cans.

Community— In ecology, the species that interact in a common area.

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

Confluence— The flowing together of two or more streams; the place where a tributary joins the main stream.

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

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.

Detect— To determine the presence of a compound. DDT— Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane. An organochlorine insecticide no longer registered for use in the United States.

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

Dissolved constituent—Operationally defined as a constituent that passes through a 0.45-micrometer filter.

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

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

Health advisory— Nonregulatory levels of contaminants in drinking water that may be used as guidance in the absence of regulatory limits. Advisories consist of estimates of concentrations that would result in no known or anticipated health effects (for carcinogens, a specified cancer risk) determined for a child or for an adult for various exposure periods.

Instream standards— See Water-quality standards.

Invertebrate— An animal having no backbone or spinal column. See also Benthic invertebrates.

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.

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.

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 streamwater and ground water. One thousand micrograms per liter equals 1 mg/L.

Midge— A small fly in the family Chironomidae. The larval (juvenile) life stages are aquatic.

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 streamwater and ground water. One thousand micrograms per liter equals 1 mg/L.

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.

Nitrate— An ion consisting of nitrogen and oxygen (NO3-). Nitrate is a plant nutrient and is very mobile in soils.

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.

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

Organochlorine pesticide— A class of organic insecticides containing a high percentage of chlorine. Includes dichlorodiphenylethanes (such as DDT), chlorinated cyclodienes (such as chlordane), and chlorinated benzenes (such as lindane). Most organochlorine insecticides were banned because of their carcinogenicity, tendency to bioaccumulate, and toxicity to wildlife.

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

Phosphorus— A nutrient essential for growth that can play a key role in stimulating aquatic growth in lakes and streams.

Picocurie (pCi)— One trillionth (10-12) of the amount of radioactivity represented by a curie (Ci). A curie is the amount of radioactivity that yields 3.7 x 1010 radioactive disintegrations per second (dps). A picocurie yields 2.22 disintegrations per minute (dpm) or 0.037 dps.

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

Reference site— A NAWQA sampling site selected for its relatively undisturbed conditions.

Sediment— Particles, derived from rocks or biological materials, that have been transported by a fluid or other natural process, suspended or settled in water.

Species— Populations of organisms that may interbreed and produce fertile offspring having similar structure, habits, and functions.

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

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.

Surface water— An open body of water, such as a lake, river, or stream.

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.

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.

Trace element— An element found in only minor amounts (concentrations less than 1.0 milligram per liter) in water or sediment; includes arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, zinc and selenium.

Un-ionized ammonia— The neutral form of ammonia-nitrogen in water, usually occurring as NH4OH. Un-ionized ammonia is the principal form of ammonia that is toxic to aquatic life. The relative proportion of un-ionized to ionized ammonia (NH4+) is controlled by water temperature and pH. At temperatures and pH values typical of most natural waters, the ionized form is dominant.

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 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.

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 year— The continuous 12-month period, October 1 through September 30, in U.S. Geological Survey reports dealing with the surface-water supply. The water year is designated by the calendar year in which it ends and which includes 9 of the 12 months. Thus, the year ending September 30, 1980, is referred to as water year 1980.

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U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1214

Suggested citation:

Spahr, N.E., Apodaca, L.E., Deacon, J.R., Bails, J.B., Bauch, N.J., Smith, C.M., and Driver, N.E., 2000, Water Quality in the Upper Colorado River Basin, Colorado, 1996–98: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1214, 33 p., on-line at

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
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