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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.

Atmospheric deposition - The transfer of substances from the air to the surface of the Earth, either in wet form (rain, fog, snow, dew, frost, hail) or in dry form (gases, aerosols, particles).

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 and metals, 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.

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.

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

Chlorinated solvent - A volatile organic compound containing chlorine. Some common solvents are trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, and carbon tetra-chloride.

Coliphages - Bacteriaphages, a type of virus, that infect and replicate in coliform bacteria and appear to be present wherever total and fecal coliforms are found.

Coliphage serotypes - Groups of coliphages that can be identified and used to infer sources of coliform bacteria.

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

Denitrification - A process by which oxidized forms of nitrogen such as nitrate (NO3-) are reduced to form nitrites, nitrogen oxides, ammonia, or free nitrogen: commonly brought about by the action of denitrifying bacteria and usually resulting in the release of nitrogen to the air.

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.

Drainage basin - The portion of the surface of the Earth that contributes water to a stream through overland runoff, 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.

Fecal bacteria - Microscopic single-celled organisms (primarily fecal coliforms and fecal streptococci) found in the wastes of warm-blooded animals. Their presence in water is used to assess the sanitary quality of water for body-contact recreation or for consumption. Their presence indicates contamination by the wastes of warm-blooded animals and the possible presence of pathogenic (disease producing) organisms.

Flow-path study - A study to examine the relations of land-use practices, ground-water flow, and contaminant occurrence and transport. A flow-path study is conducted within a land-use study.

Freshwater chronic criteria - The highest concentration of a contaminant that freshwater aquatic organisms can be exposed to for an extended period of time (4 days) without adverse effects. See also Water-quality criteria.

Fumigant - A substance or mixture of substances that produces gas, vapor, fume, or smoke intended to destroy insects, bacteria, or rodents.

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

Headwaters - The source and upper part of a stream.

Intensive fixed sites - Basic fixed sites with increased sampling frequency during selected seasonal periods and analysis of dissolved pesticides and volatile organic compounds for 1 year. Most NAWQA Study Units have one to two integrator intensive fixed sites and one to four indicator intensive fixed sites.

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.

Land-use study - A study that is a subset of the study-unit survey and has the goal of relating the quality of shallow ground water to land use. See also Study-unit survey.

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.

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.

Metabolite - A substance produced in or by biological processes.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

Riparian - Areas adjacent to rivers and streams with a high density, diversity, and productivity of plant and animal species relative to nearby uplands.

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.

Study-unit survey - Broad assessment of the water-quality conditions of the major aquifer systems of each Study Unit. The study-unit survey relies primarily on sampling existing wells and, wherever possible, on existing data collected by other agencies and programs. Typically, 20 to 30 wells are sampled in each of three to five aquifer subunits.

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.

Taxon (plural taxa) - Any identifiable group of taxonomically related organisms.

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

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

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 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 pollutants that would make the water harmful if used for drinking, swimming, farming, fish production, or industrial processes.

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 1216

Suggested citation:

Ebbert, J.C., Embrey, S.S., Black, R.W., Tesoriero, A.J., and Haggland A.L., 2000, Water Quality in the Puget Sound Basin, Washington and British Columbia, 1996–98: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1216, 31 p., on-line at

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