Glossary of Water Terms
Water Conservation Division,
Environment Canada's Freshwater Website
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acid mine drainage -
Low pH drainage water from certain mines usually caused
by the oxidation of sulphides to sulphuric acid. Mine
drainage can also contain high concentration of metal
acid rain -
Rainfall with a pH of less than 7.0. One source is
the combining of rain and sulphur dioxide emissions,
which are a by-product of combustion of fossil fuels.
Also referred to as acid deposition and wet deposition.
algae - Simple
rootless plants that grow in sunlit waters in relative
proportion to the amounts of nutrients available.
They can affect water quality adversely by lowering
the dissolved oxygen in the water. They are food for
fish and small aquatic animals.
algae blooms -
Rapid growth of algae on the surface of lakes, streams,
or ponds; stimulated by nutrient enrichment.
alkali - Any
strongly basic substance of hydroxide and carbonate,
such as soda, potash, etc., that is soluble in water
and increases the pH of a solution.
aquatic ecosystem -
Basic ecological unit composed of living and nonliving
elements interacting in an aqueous milieu.
aquifer - The
underground layer of water-soaked sand and rock that
acts as a water source for a well; described as artesian
(confined) or water table (unconfined).
arid - Describes
regions where precipitation is insufficient in quantity
for most crops and where agriculture is impractical
The layer of gases surrounding the earth and composed
of considerable amounts of nitrogen, hydrogen, and
atmospheric water -
Water present in the atmosphere either as a solid
(snow, hail), liquid (rain) or gas (fog, mist).
bioaccumulation (bioconcentation) -
A term used to describe a process that occurs when
levels of toxic substances increase in an organism
over time, due to continued exposure.
biodegradable - Capable of
being broken down by living organisms into inorganic
biological diversity (biodiversity) -The
variety of different species, the genetic variability
of each species, and the variety of different ecosystems
that they form.
biomagnification (biological magnification) -
A cumulative increase in the concentrations of a persistent
substance in successively higher levels of the food
biota - Collectively, the plants,
microorganisms, and animals of a certain area or region.
bog - A type of wetland that
accumulates appreciable peat deposits. It depends
primarily on precipitation for its water source and
is usually acidic and rich in plant matter, with a
conspicuous mat or living green moss.
boundary water - A river or
lake that is part of the boundary between two or more
countries or provinces that have rights to the water.
climate - Meteorological elements
that characterize the average and extreme conditions
of the atmosphere over a long period of time at any
one place or region of the earth's surface.
climate change - The slow variations
of climatic characteristics over time at a given place.
coliform bacteria - A group
of bacteria used as an indicator of sanitary quality
in water. Exposure to these organisms in drinking
water causes diseases such as cholera.
combined sewers - A sewer that
carries both sewage and storm water runoff.
condensation - The process
by which a vapour becomes a liquid or solid; the opposite
of evaporation. In meteorological usage, this term
is applied only to the transformation from vapour
conservation - The continuing
protection and management of natural resources in
accordance with principles that assure their optimum
long-term economic and social benefits.
consumptive use - The difference
between the total quantity of water withdrawn from
a source for any use and the quantity of water returned
to the source; e.g.,
the release of water into the atmosphere; the consumption
of water by humans, animals, and plants; and the incorporation
of water into the products of industrial or food processing.
contaminant - Any physical,
chemical, biological, or radiological substance or
matter that has an adverse affect on air, water, or
cooling tower - A structure
that helps remove heat from water used as a coolant;
e.g., in electric
power generating plants.
cubic metre per second (m3/s) -
A unit expressing rate of discharge, typically used
in measuring streamflow. One cubic metre per second
is equal to the discharge in a stream of a cross section
one metre wide and one metre deep, flowing with an
average velocity of one metre per second.
dam - A structure of earth,
rock, concrete, or other materials designed to retain
water, creating a pond, lake, or reservoir.
delta - A fan-shaped alluvial
deposit at a river mouth formed by the deposition
of successive layers of sediment.
demand - The numerical expression
of the desire for goods and services associated with
an economic standard for acquiring them.
depletion - Loss of water from
surface water reservoirs or groundwater aquifers at
a rate greater than that of recharge.
dioxin - Any of a family of
compounds known chemically as dibenzo-p-dioxins. Concern
about them arises from their potential toxicity and
contamination in commercial products.
discharge - In the simplest
form, discharge means outflow of water. The use of
this term is not restricted as to course or location,
and it can be used to describe the flow of water from
a pipe or from a drainage basin. Other words related
to it are runoff, streamflow, and yield.
dissolved oxygen (DO) - The
amount of oxygen freely available in water and necessary
for aquatic life and the oxidation of organic materials.
dissolved solids (DS) - Very
small pieces of organic and inorganic material contained
in water. Excessive amounts make water unfit to drink
or limit its use in industrial processes.
diversion - The transfer of
water from a stream, lake, aquifer, or other source
of water by a canal, pipe, well, or other conduit
to another watercourse or to the land, as in the case
of an irrigation system.
domestic use - The quantity
of water used for household purposes such as washing,
food preparation, and bathing.
drainage basin - See: Watershed.
dredgeate - The material excavated from
lake, river, or channel bottoms during dredging.
dredging - The removal of material
from the bottom of water bodies using a scooping machine.
This disturbs the ecosystem and causes silting that
can kill aquatic life.
drought - A continuous and
lengthy period during which no significant precipitation
dry deposition - Emissions
of sulphur and nitrogen oxides that, in the absence
of water in the atmosphere (i.e.,
rain), settle to the ground as particulate matter.
dyke - An artificial embankment
constructed to prevent flooding.
ecosystem - A system formed
by the interaction of a group of organisms and their
effluent - The sewage or industrial
liquid waste that is released into natural water by
sewage treatment plants, industry, or septic tanks.
environment - All of the external
factors, conditions, and influences that affect an
organism or a community.
environmental assessment -
The critical appraisal of the likely effects of a
proposed project, activity, or policy on the environment,
both positive and negative.
environmental monitoring -
The process of checking, observing, or keeping track
of something for a specified period of time or at
erosion - The wearing down
or washing away of the soil and land surface by the
action of water, wind, or ice.
estuary - Regions of interaction
between rivers and nearshore ocean waters, where tidal
action and river flow create a mixing of fresh water
and saltwater. These areas may include bays, mouths
of rivers, salt marshes, and lagoons. These brackish
water ecosystems shelter and feed marine life, birds,
eutrophic lake - Shallow, murky
bodies of water that have excessive concentrations
of plant nutrients causing excessive algal production.
eutrophication - The natural
process by which lakes and ponds become enriched with
dissolved nutrients, resulting in increased growth
of algae and other microscopic plants.
evaporation - The process by
which a liquid changes to a vapour.
evapotranspiration - The loss
of water from a land area through evaporation from
the soil and through plant transpiration.
fen - A type of wetland that
accumulates peat deposits. Fens are less acidic than
bogs, deriving most of their water from groundwater
rich in calcium and magnesium.
flood - The temporary inundation
of normally dry land areas resulting from the overflowing
of the natural or artificial confines of a river or
other body of water.
flood damage - The economic
loss caused by floods, including damage by inundation,
erosion, and/or sediment deposition. Damages also
include emergency costs and business or financial
losses. Evaluation may be based on the cost of replacing,
repairing, or rehabilitating; the comparative change
in market or sales value; or the change in the income
or production caused by flooding.
flood forecasting - Prediction
of stage, discharge, time of occurrence, and duration
of a flood, especially of peak discharge at a specified
point on a stream, resulting from precipitation and/or
flood fringe - The portion
of the floodplain where water depths are shallow and
velocities are low.
flood peak - The highest magnitude
of the stage of discharge attained by a flood. Also
called peak stage or peak discharge.
floodplain - Any normally dry
land area that is susceptible to being inundated by
water from any natural source. This area is usually
low land adjacent to a stream or lake.
floodproofing - Any combination
of structural and nonstructural additions, changes,
or adjustments to structures that reduce or eliminate
floodway - The channel of a
river or stream and those parts of the adjacent floodplain
adjoining the channel that are required to carry and
discharge the base flood.
flow - The rate of water discharged
from a source; expressed in volume with respect to
time, e.g., m3/s.
flow augmentation - The addition
of water to a stream, especially to meet instream
food chain - A sequence of
organisms, each of which uses the next, lower member
of the sequence as a food source.
food web - The complex intermeshing
of individual food chains in an ecosystem.
fresh water - Water that generally
contains less than 1000 milligrams per litre
of dissolved solids such as salts, metals, nutrients,
glacier - A huge mass of ice,
formed on land by the compaction and re-crystallization
of snow, that moves very slowly downslope or outward
due to its own weight.
greenhouse effect - The warming
of the earth's atmosphere caused by a build-up of
carbon dioxide or other trace gases; it is believed
by many scientists that this build-up allows light
from the sun's rays to heat the earth but prevents
a counterbalancing loss of heat.
groundwater - The supply of
fresh water found beneath the earth's surface (usually
in aquifers) that is often used for supplying wells
groundwater recharge - The
inflow to an aquifer.
habitat - The native environment
where a plant or animal naturally grows or lives.
hazardous waste - Waste that
poses a risk to human health or the environment and
requires special disposal techniques to make it harmless
or less dangerous.
hydroelectricity - Electric
energy produced by water-powered turbine generators.
hydrologic cycle - The constant
circulation of water from the sea, through the atmosphere,
to the land, and back to the sea by over-land, underground,
and atmospheric routes.
hydrology - The science of
waters of the earth; water's properties, circulation,
principles, and distribution.
infiltration - The movement
of water into soil or porous rock. Infiltration occurs
as water flows through the larger pores of rock or
between soil particles under the influence of gravity,
or as a gradual wetting of small particles by capillary
inflow - The entry of extraneous
rainwater into a sewer system from sources other than
infiltration, such as basement drains, sewer holes,
storm drains, and street washing.
inorganic - Matter other than
plant or animal and not containing a combination of
carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, as in living things.
instream use - Uses of water
within the stream channel, e.g.,
fish and other aquatic life, recreation, navigation,
and hydroelectric power production.
integrated resource planning -
The management of two or more resources in the same
general area; commonly includes water, soil, timber,
grazing land, fish, wildlife, and recreation.
interbasin transfer - The diversion
of water from one drainage basin to one or more other
irrigation - The controlled
application of water to cropland, hayland, and/or
pasture to supplement that supplied through nature.
jökulhlaup - Destructive
flood that occurs as the result of the rapid ablation
of ice by volcanic activity beneath the ice of a large
kilowatt (kW) - A unit of electrical
power equal to 1000 watts or 1.341 horsepower.
kilowatt hour (kWh) - One kilowatt
of power applied for one hour.
lagoon - (1) A shallow pond
where sunlight, bacterial action, and oxygen work
to purify wastewater. (2) A shallow body of water,
often separated from the sea by coral reefs or sandbars.
lake - Any inland body of standing
water, usually fresh water, larger than a pool or
pond; a body of water filling a depression in the
leaching - The removal of soluble
organic and inorganic substances from the topsoil
downward by the action of percolating water.
litre - The basic unit of measurement
for volume in the metric system; equal to 61.025 cubic
inches or 1.0567 liquid quarts.
marsh - A type of wetland that
does not accumulate appreciable peat deposits and
is dominated by herbaceous vegetation. Marshes may
be either fresh water or saltwater and tidal or non-tidal.
megawatt - A unit of electricity
equivalent to 1000 kilowatts.
model - A simulation, by descriptive,
statistical, or other means, of a process or project
that is difficult or impossible to observe directly.
Nonaqueous phase liquids; i.e.,
chemical solvents such as trichloroethylene (TCE)
or carbon tetrachloride often toxic. Many
of the most problematic NAPLs are DNAPLs
dense nonaqueous phase liquids.
natural flow - The flow of
a stream as it would be if unaltered by upstream diversion,
storage, import, export, or change in upstream consumptive
use caused by development.
navigable waters - Traditionally,
waters sufficiently deep and wide for navigation by
all, or specific sizes of, vessels.
non-renewable resources - Natural
resources that can be used up completely or else used
up to such a degree that it is economically impractical
to obtain any more of them; e.g.,
coal, crude oil, and metal ores.
nutrient - As a pollutant,
any element or compound, such as phosphorus or nitrogen,
that fuels abnormally high organic growth in aquatic
eutrophication of a lake).
oligotrophic lake - Deep, clear
lakes with low nutrient supplies. They contain little
organic matter and have a high dissolved oxygen level.
organic - (1) Referring to
or derived from living organisms. (2) In chemistry,
any compound containing carbon.
organism - A living thing.
parts per million (PPM) - The
number of "parts" by weight of a substance
per million parts of water. This unit is commonly
used to represent pollutant concentrations. Large
concentrations are expressed in percentages.
pathogenic microorganisms -
Microorganisms that can cause disease in other organisms
or in humans, animals, and plants.
percolation - The movement
of water downward through the subsurface to the zone
permafrost - Perennially frozen
layer in the soil, found in alpine, arctic, and antarctic
pesticide - A substance or
mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying,
repelling, or mitigating any pest. Also, any substance
or mixture of substances intended to regulate plant
or leaf growth. Pesticides can accumulate in the food
chain and/or contaminate the environment if misused.
pH - An expression of both
acidity and alkalinity on a scale of 0 to 14,
with 7 representing neutrality; numbers less
than 7 indicate increasing acidity and numbers
greater than 7 indicate increasing alkalinity.
photosynthesis - The manufacture
by plants of carbohydrates and oxygen from carbon
dioxide and water in the presence of chlorophyll,
using sunlight as an energy source.
phytoplankton - Usually microscopic
aquatic plants, sometimes consisting of only one cell.
plankton - Tiny plants and
animals that live in water.
polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) -
A group of chemicals found in industrial wastes.
pond - A small natural body
of standing fresh water filling a surface depression,
usually smaller than a lake.
precipitation - Water falling,
in a liquid or solid state, from the atmosphere to
a land or water surface.
rain - Water falling to earth
in drops that have been condensed from moisture in
receiving waters - A river,
ocean, stream, or other watercourse into which wastewater
or treated effluent is discharged.
recharge - The processes involved
in the addition of water to the zone of saturation;
also the amount of water added.
recyclable - Refers to such
products as paper, glass, plastic, used oil, and metals
that can be reprocessed instead of being disposed
of as waste.
renewable resource - Natural
resource (e.g., tree
biomass, fresh water, fish) whose supply can essentially
never be exhausted, usually because it is continuously
reservoir - A pond, lake,
or basin (natural or artificial) that stores, regulates,
or controls water.
resource - A person, thing,
or action needed for living or to improve the quality
river - A natural stream of
water of substantial volume.
river basin - A term used to
designate the area drained by a river and its tributaries.
runoff - The amount of precipitation
appearing in surface streams, rivers, and lakes; defined
as the depth to which a drainage area would be covered
if all of the runoff for a given period of time were
uniformly distributed over it.
saltwater intrusion - The
invasion of fresh surface water or groundwater by
sanitary sewers - Underground
pipes that carry off only domestic or industrial waste,
not storm water.
sediment - Fragmented organic
or inorganic material derived from the weathering
of soil, alluvial, and rock materials; removed by
erosion and transported by water, wind, ice, and gravity.
sedimentation - The deposition
of sediment from a state of suspension in water or
seiche - A periodic oscillation,
or standing wave, in an enclosed water body the physical
dimensions of which determine how frequently the water
septic tank - Tank used to
hold domestic wastes when a sewer line is not available
to carry them to a treatment plant; part of a rural
on-site sewage treatment system.
sewage - The waste and wastewater
produced by residential and commercial establishments
and discharged into sewers.
sewage system - Pipelines
or conduits, pumping stations, force mains, and all
other structures, devices, and facilities used for
collecting or conducting wastes to a point for treatment
sewer - A channel or conduit
that carries wastewater and storm water runoff from
the source to a treatment plant or receiving stream.
sewerage - The entire system
of sewage collection, treatment, and disposal.
silt - Fine particles of sand
or rock that can be picked up by the air or water
and deposited as sediment.
sludge - A semi-solid residue
from any of a number of air or water treatment processes.
solvent - Substances (usually
liquid) capable of dissolving or dispersing one or
more other substances.
spoils - Dirt or rock that
has been removed from its original location, destroying
the composition of the soil in the process, as with
strip-mining or dredging.
spring - An area where groundwater
flows naturally onto the land surface.
storm sewer - A system of
pipes (separate from sanitary sewers) that carry only
water runoff from building and land surfaces.
stream - Any body of running
water moving under gravity flow through clearly defined
natural channels to progressively lower levels.
streamflow - The discharge
that occurs in a natural channel. Although the term
"discharge" can be applied to the flow of
a canal, the word "streamflow" uniquely
describes the discharge in a surface stream. The term
"streamflow" is more general than the term
"runoff", as streamflow may be applied to
discharge whether or not it is affected by diversion
surface water - All water
naturally open to the atmosphere (rivers, lakes, reservoirs,
streams, impoundments, seas, estuaries, etc.); also
refers to springs, wells, or other collectors that
are directly influenced by surface water.
suspended solids (SS) - Defined
in waste management, these are small particles of
solid pollutants that resist separation by conventional
methods. Suspended solids (along with biological oxygen
demand) are a measurement of water quality and an
indicator of treatment plant efficiency.
sustainable development - Development
that ensures that the use of resources and the environment
today does not restrict their use by future generations.
swamp - A type of wetland that
is dominated by woody vegetation and does not accumulate
appreciable peat deposits. Swamps may be fresh water
or saltwater and tidal or nontidal.
temperature - The degree of
hotness or coldness.
thermal pollution - The impairment
of water quality through temperature increase; usually
occurs as a result of industrial cooling water discharges.
toxic - Harmful to living organisms.
transpiration - The process
by which water absorbed by plants, usually through
the roots, is evaporated into the atmosphere from
the plant surface, principally from the leaves.
tributary - A stream that contributes
its water to another stream or body of water.
tsunami - A Japanese term
that has been adopted to describe a large seismically
generated sea wave capable of considerable destruction
in certain coastal areas, especially where sub-marine
turbidity - Cloudiness caused
by the presence of suspended solids in water; an indicator
of water quality.
tank - A tank located all or partially
underground that is designed to hold gasoline or other
petroleum products or chemical solutions.
urban runoff -
Storm water from city streets and adjacent domestic
or commercial properties that may carry pollutants
of various kinds into the sewer systems and/or receiving
The gaseous phase of substances that are liquid or
solid at atmospheric temperature and pressure, e.g.,
waste disposal system -
A system for the disposing of wastes, either by surface
or underground methods; includes sewer systems, treatment
works, and disposal wells.
Water that carries wastes from homes, businesses,
and industries; a mixture of water and dissolved or
wastewater treatment plant
- A facility containing a series of tanks, screens,
filters, and other processes by which pollutants are
removed from water.
water (H2O) -
An odourless, tasteless, colourless liquid formed
by a combination of hydrogen and oxygen; forms streams,
lakes, and seas, and is a major constituent of all
- The care, preservation, protection, and wise
use of water.
water contamination -
Impairment of water quality to a degree that reduces
the usability of the water for ordinary purposes or
creates a hazard to public health through poisoning
or the spread of diseases.
water management -The
study, planning, monitoring, and application of quantitative
and qualitative control and development techniques
for long-term, multiple use of the diverse forms of
water pollution -
Industrial and institutional wastes and other harmful
or objectionable material in sufficient quantities
to result in a measurable degradation of the water
water quality -
A term used to describe the chemical, physical, and
biological characteristics of water with respect to
its suitability for a particular use.
water quality guidelines -
Specific levels of water quality that, if reached,
are expected to render a body of water suitable for
its designated use. The 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.
water supply system
- The collection, treatment, storage, and distribution
of potable water from source to consumer.
water table -
The top of the zone of saturation.
The land area that drains into a stream.
well - A pit,
hole, or shaft sunk into the earth to tap an underground
source of water.
wet deposition -
See acid rain.
wetlands - Lands
where water saturation is the dominant factor determining
the nature of soil development and the types of plant
and animal communities living in the surrounding environment.
Other common names for wetlands are bogs, ponds, estuaries,
withdrawal use -
The act of removing water from surface water or groundwater
sources in order to use it.
zooplankton - Tiny
aquatic animals eaten by fish.
zone of saturation -
A subsurface zone in which all the pores or the material
are filled with groundwater under pressure greater
than atmospheric pressure.
- Durrenberger, Robert W. Dictionary of the Environmental
Sciences. Palo Alta, Ca.: National Press Books,
- Government of Canada. "Glossary
of selected terms." The State of Canada's
Environment. Ottawa, 1991.
- North Dakota State Water Commission.
Water words: a glossary of water-related terms.
- Parker, Sybil P. (Ed). McGraw-Hill
Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms.
3rd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984.
- UNESCO; World Meteorological Organization.
International Glossary of Hydrology. Geneva,
- US Environmental Protection Agency.
Glossary of Environmental Terms and Acronym List.
Washington, D.C., 1989.
- Whittow, John. The Penguin Dictionary
of Physical Geography. Markham: Penguin Books,
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