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Determining the Water Quality Index

In an attempt to devise a system to compare rivers and lakes in various parts of the country, the National
Sanitation Foundation (NSF) created and designed a standard index called the Water Quality Index
(WQI). The WQI is one of the most widely used of all existing water quality procedures. The overall
results of nine separate tests can be used to determine if a particular stretch of river is healthy.
The WQI consists of nine tests:
Dissolved Oxygen
Fecal Coliform
pH
BOD (Biochemical Oxygen Demand)
Temperature
Total Phosphate
Nitrates
Turbidity
Total Solids
After completing the nine tests, the results are recorded and transferred to a weighting curve chart where a
numerical value is obtained. For each test, the numerical value or Q-value is multiplied by a weighting
factor. For example, dissolved oxygen has a relatively high weighting factor (.17); because it is more
significant in determining water quality than the other tests. The nine resulting values are then added to
arrive at an overall water quality index (WQI). The highest score a body of water can receive is 100.
Water Quality Index Ranges
90-100 Excellent
70-90 Good
50-70 Medium
25-50 Bad
0-25 Very Bad

If you are unable to run all nine tests and you want to estimate the Overall Water
Quality Index, students could determine the Q value of missing data by examining
known data. For example , if the fecal coliform test were not run, the results or Qvalue of three related tests (dissolved oxygen, nitrates, total phosphate) could be
averaged to get a score for that test. Using the table below as an example, the average
Q-value of the three tests is 62 - or a fecal coliform count of 20 colonies per 100 ml of
water.

Calculating NSF Water Quality Index


Water quality index is a 100 point scale that summarizes results from a total of nine different
measurements when complete:
TemperaturepH
Dissolved Oxygen
Turbidity
Fecal Coliform
Biochemical Oxygen
Total Phosphates
Nitrates
Total Suspended Solids
Using the book Field Manual for Water Quality Monitoring, the National Sanitation Foundation
surveyed 142 people representing a wide range of positions at the local, state, and national level
about 35 water quality tests for possible inclusion in an index. Nine factors were chosen and some
were judged more important than others, so a weighted mean is used to combine the values.
So that field measurements could be converted to index values, respondents were asked by
questionnaire to graph the level of water quality (0 through 100) corresponding to the field
measurements (e.g., pH 2-12). The curves were then averaged and are thought to represent the
best professional judgment.
Water Quality Factors and Weights
Factor
Weight
Dissolved oxygen
0.17
Water quality index is a 100 point scale that summarizes
results from a total of nine different measurements
Graphs are used to convert field data to a Q or Quality
Value.
The Q value is then multiplied by Weighing Factor to get
the Water Quality Index for that Chemical. The results
are then totaled to get the Overall Water Quality Index

Fecal coliform

0.16

pH

0.11

Biochemical oxygen demand

0.11

Temperature change

0.10

Total phosphate

0.10

Nitrates

0.10

Turbidity

0.08

Total solids

0.07

Water Quality Index: Fecal Coli

Note: If the number of fecal coliform colonies is greater than 100,000,


the quality index equals 2.
Fecal coliform:

Water quality index:

(colonies/100 ml)

Water Quality Index: Total Solids

Note: If total solids is greater than 500 ppm,


the quality index equals 20.
Total solids:

(ppm)

Water quality index:

1 ppm = approximately 1 mg/L (also written as mg/l) in water

Water Quality Index: DO sat (%)

Note: If dissolved oxygen is greater than 140%,


the quality index equals 50.
Convert dissolved oxygen (%sat) to water quality index.
Dissolved oxygen:

Water quality index:

(%sat)

Water Quality Index: pH

Note: If pH is less than 2.0 or greater than 12.0,


the quality index equals 0.

Convert pH to water quality index.


pH:

Water quality index:

(units)

Water Quality Index: Turbidity

Note: If turbidity is greater than 100 ntu,


the quality index equals 5.

Convert turbidity to water quality index.


Turbidity:

Water quality index:

(jtu)

Water Quality Index: BOD

Note: If biochemical oxygen demand is greater than 30 ppm,


the quality index equals 2.

Convert biochemical oxygen demand (ppm) to water quality index.


Biochemical oxygen demand:

Water quality index:

(ppm)

Water Quality Index: Nitrate

Note: If nitrate nitrogen is greater than 100 ppm,


the quality index equals 1.

Convert nitrates (ppm) to water quality index.


Nitrates:

Water quality index:

(ppm)

Water Quality Index: Total Phosphate

Note: If total phosphate is greater than 10 ppm,


the quality index equals 2.

Convert total phosphate (ppm) to water quality index.


Total phosphate:

Water quality index:

(ppm)

Calculation of Overall Water Quality Index


Factor

Weight

Dissolved oxygen

0.17

Fecal coliform

0.16

pH

0.11

Biochemical oxygen demand

0.11

Temperature change

0.10

Total phosphate

0.10

Nitrates

0.10

Turbidity

0.08

Total solids

0.07

Based on the

Quality Index

factors entered,

the water quality index is

The 100 point index can be divided into several ranges corresponding to the general descriptive
terms shown in the table below.
Water Quality Index Legend
Range
Quality
90-100

Excellent

70-90

Good

50-70

Medium

25-50

Bad

0-25

Very bad

CONCENTRATIONS in Water

1 gram/Liter

%o (part per thousand)

1 milligram/Liter

1 ppm (part per million)

1 microgram/Liter

1 ppb (part per billion)

1 nanogram/Liter

1 ppt (part per trillion)

Resource Information from

http://www.water-research.net/watrqualindex/waterqualityindex.htm
http://www.waterontheweb.org/resources/conversiontables.html