Water quality is the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of water in relationship to a set of standards. In the United States, Water Quality Standards are created by state agencies for different types of water bodies and water body locations per desired uses. The primary uses considered for such characterization are parameters which relate to drinking water, safety of human contact, and for health of ecosystems. The methods of hydrometry are used to quantify water characteristics.
In the setting of standards, agencies make political and technical/scientific decisions about how the water will be used. In the case of natural water bodies, they also make some reasonable estimate of pristine conditions. Different uses raise different concerns and therefore different standards are considered. Natural water bodies will vary in response to environmental conditions. Environmental scientists are working to understand the functioning of these systems, which determines sources and fates of contaminants. Environmental lawyers and policy makers are working to define water laws that designate the fore mentioned uses and natural conditions.
The vast majority of surface water on the planet is neither potable nor toxic. This remains true even if sea water in the oceans (which is too salty to drink) isn't counted. Another general perception of water quality is that of a simple property that tells whether water is polluted or not. In fact, water quality is a very complex subject, in part because water is a complex medium intrinsically tied to the ecology of the Earth. Industrial pollution is a major cause of water pollution, as well as runoff from agricultural areas, urban stormwater runoff and discharge of untreated sewage (especially in developing countries).
The complexity of water quality as a subject is reflected in the many types of measurements of water quality indicators. Some of the simple measurements listed below can be made on-site (temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, conductivity), in direct contact with the water source in question. More complex measurements that must be made in a lab setting require a water sample to be collected, preserved, and analyzed at another location. Making these complex measurements can be expensive. Because direct measurements of water quality can be expensive, ongoing monitoring programs are typically conducted by government agencies. However, there are local volunteer programs and resources available for some general assessment. Tools available to the general public are on-site test kits commonly used for home fish tanks and biological assessments.
For More Information: Water Quality K-12 Experiments & Background Information
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