You are on page 1of 3

Water quality refers to the chemical, physical, biological, and radiological cha

racteristics of water. It is a measure of the condition of water relative to the
requirements of one or more biotic species and or to any human need or purpose.
It is most frequently used by reference to a set of standards against which com
pliance can be assessed. The most common standards used to assess water quality
relate to health of ecosystems, safety of human contact and drinking water.
In the setting of standards, agencies make political and technical/scientific de
cisions about how the water will be used. In the case of natural water bodies, t
hey also make some reasonable estimate of pristine conditions. Different uses ra
ise different concerns and therefore different standards are considered. Natural
water bodies will vary in response to environmental conditions. Environmental s
cientists work to understand how these systems function, which in turn helps to
identify the sources and fates of contaminants. Environmental lawyers and policy
makers work to define legislation with the intention that water is maintained at
an appropriate quality for its identified use.
The vast majority of surface water on the planet is neither potable nor toxic. T
his remains true when seawater in the oceans is not counted. Another general pe
rception of water quality is that of a simple property that tells whether water
is polluted or not. In fact, water quality is a complex subject, in part because
water is a complex medium intrinsically tied to the ecology of the Earth. Indus
trial and commercial activities are a major cause of water pollution as are run
off from agricultural areas, urban runoff and discharge of treated and untreated
The parameters for water quality are determined by the intended use. Work in the
area of water quality tends to be focused on water that is treated for human co
nsumption, industrial use, or in the environment.
Human consumption
Contaminants that may be in untreated water include microorganisms such as virus
es, protozoa and bacteria; inorganic contaminants such as salts and metals; orga
nic chemical contaminants from industrial processes and petroleum use; pesticide
s and herbicides; and radioactive contaminants. Water quality depends on the loc
al geology and ecosystem, as well as human uses such as sewage dispersion, indus
trial pollution, use of water bodies as a heat sink, and overuse .
The United States Environmental Protection Agency limits the amounts of certain
contaminants in tap water provided by US public water systems. The Safe Drinkin
g Water Act authorizes EPA to issue two types of standards: primary standards re
gulate substances that potentially affect human health, and secondary standards
prescribe aesthetic qualities, those that affect taste, odor, or appearance. The
U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations establish limits for contaminant
s in bottled water that must provide the same protection for public health. Drin
king water, including bottled water, may reasonably be expected to contain at le
ast small amounts of some contaminants. The presence of these contaminants does
not necessarily indicate that the water poses a health risk.
In urbanized areas around the world, water purification technology is used in mu
nicipal water systems to remove contaminants from the source water before it is
distributed to homes, businesses, schools and other recipients. Water drawn dir
ectly from a stream, lake, or aquifer and that has no treatment will be of uncer
tain quality.
Industrial and domestic use
Dissolved minerals may affect suitability of water for a range of industrial and
domestic purposes. The most familiar of these is probably the presence of ions
of calcium and magnesium which interfere with the cleaning action of soap, and c
an form hard sulfate and soft carbonate deposits in water heaters or boilers. Ha
rd water may be softened to remove these ions. The softening process often subst
itutes sodium cations. Hard water may be preferable to soft water for human cons
umption, since health problems have been associated with excess sodium and with
calcium and magnesium deficiencies. Softening decreases nutrition and may increa
se cleaning effectiveness.

The sample collection procedure must assu re correct weighting of individual sampling times and locations where averaging is appropriate. statistical meth ods must be applied to observed variation to determine an adequate number of sam ples to assess probability of exceeding those critical values. A common procedure is keeping samples cold to slow the rate of chemical reactions and phase change . There is some desire among the public to return water bodies to pristine. dissolved oxygen. because water exists in equilibrium with its surround ings. Access to clean drinking water and adequ . turbidity. The sampler must determine if a single time and location meets the needs of the investigation. and analyzed at another location. These conditions ma y also affect wildlife.Environmental water quality Environmental water quality. Many water sources vary with time and with location. Sampling and measurement The complexity of water quality as a subject is reflected in the many types of m easurements of water quality indicators. retention of current quality standards. and industrial uses. The second problem occurs as the sample is removed from the water source and beg ins to establish chemical equilibrium with its new surroundings . rafting. preserved. returning to pristine conditions would be a signif icant challenge.the sample con tainer. Sample preservation may partially resolve the second problem. and oceans. The first proble m is the extent to which the sample may be representative of the water source of interest. which use the water for drinking or as a habitat. oxygen reduction potential. and intended human uses. The most accurate measurements of water quality are made on-site. fishing. or if critical maxima and minima require individual measurements over a ra nge of times. but this merely minimizes the ch anges rather than preventing them. and Secchi disk depth. swimming. rivers. The measurement of interest may vary seasonally or from day to night or in response to some acti vity of man or natural populations of aquatic plants and animals. In some countries these designations allow for some water contamination as long as the particular type of contamination is not harmful to the designated uses. as a minimum. Water quality standards for surface w aters vary significantly due to different environmental conditions. Sample collection More complex measurements are often made in a laboratory requiring a water sampl e to be collected. The water sample may dissolve part of the sample container and any residue on th at container. Testing in response to natural disasters and other emergencies Inevitably after events such as earthquakes and tsunamis. Measurements commonly made on-site and in direct contact with the water so urce in question include temperature. transported. relates to water bodies such as lakes. also called ambient water quality. ecosystems. locations and/or events. The measuremen t of interest may vary with distances from the water boundary with overlying atm osphere and underlying or confining soil. pH. boating. and analyzing the sample as soon as possible. Where critical maximum or minimum values exist. Toxic substances and high populations of certain microo rganisms can present a health hazard for non-drinking purposes such as irrigatio n. Most current environmental laws focus on the designation of particular uses of a water body. Given the landscape changes in the watershe ds of many freshwater bodies. environmental scientists focus on achieving goa ls for maintaining healthy ecosystems and may concentrate on the protection of p opulations of endangered species and protecting human health. The process of water sampling introduces two significant problems. or pre -industrial conditions. Modern water quality laws generally specify protection of fisheries and recreational u se and require. conductivity. or chemicals dissolved in the water sample may sorb onto the sampl e container and remain there when the water is poured out for analysis. or if the water use of interest can be satisfactorily assessed by averaged values with time and/or loca tion. Sample containers must be made of materials with minimal reactivity with substances to be measured. there is an immediate response by the aid agencies as relief operations get underway to try and restor e basic infrastructure and provide the basic fundamental items that are necessar y for survival and subsequent recovery. In these cases. and pre-cleaning of sample containers is important.

The key basic water quality parameters that need to be addresse d in an emergency are bacteriological indicators of fecal contamination. . The threat of disease increases hugely due to the large numbers of people living close together. turbidity and possibly conductivity/total dissolved solids. After major natural disasters. pH. and without proper sanitation. There are a number of portable water test kits on the market widely used by aid and relief agencies for carrying out such testing. often in squal id conditions. IWMI develop ed protocols for cleaning wells contaminated by saltwater. For example. as far as water quality testing is concerned there are widespread views on the best course of action to take and a variety of methods can be employed. After a natural disaster.ate sanitation is a priority at times like this. these were subsequent ly officially endorsed by the World Health Organization as part of its series of Emergency Guidelines. free ch lorine residual. a considerable length of time might pass before w ater quality returns to pre-disaster levels. following the 2004 Ind ian Ocean Tsunami the Colombo-based International Water Management Institute mo nitored the effects of saltwater and concluded that the wells recovered to pre-t sunami drinking water quality one and a half years after the event.