Water Quality


Water samples should be collected from the most represented portion of a stream, which is usually the run (a fast moving area without surface breaks) and as close to the downstream end of the reach as possible. Analysis can be pe​rformed either in the field or lab. Most of your results should fall within the excellent or good ranges. The exceptions are pH (marginal – excellent) and dissolved oxygen (marginal – excellent). The total metals category is a combination of all metals that may be present. This document contains an overview on basic water chemistry. The formula to convert temperature from Fahrenheit ºF to Celsius ºC is: ([ºF - 32] ÷ 9) x 5 = °C

Constituents Excellent Good Marginal Poor Units
Alkalinity > 40 21 - 40 5 - 20 < 5 ppm
pH 7.6 - 9.0 6.5 - 7.5 6.0 - 6.5 < 6.0 > 9.0 -
Dissolved Oxygen > 10.0 7.0 - 10.0 7.0 - 5.0 < 5.0 ppm
Conductivity < 150 150-300 300 - 500 > 500 µs/cm
Nutrients N/P < 1.0 1.0 - 2.0 2.0 - 4.0 > 4.0 ppm
Metals < 1.0 1.0 - 1.5 1.6 - 3.0 > 3.0 ppm
Bacteria < 100 100 - 200 201 - 400 > 400 CFU

Note: The values provided here are for guidance and educational purposes; they do not conform to water quality standards and in some cases a standard may not exists (e.g. nutrients, conductivity). However, the values are based upon ranges that most agree are needed to maintain healthy ecological integrity of stream environments.

Stream scholars analyze the dissolved oxygen from Skaggs Run
Stream scholars analyze the DO of Skaggs Run
Photo courtesy of the Cacapon Institute

Water Quality Standards

Congress passed the Clean Water Act (CWA) in 1972 to keep our waters clean enough for recreational uses, such as swimming and fishing. The CWA required states to develop water quality standards to protect all water uses and to designate uses for each waterway. The legislation also mandated that industries and wastewater treatment plants obtain permits that set restrictions on the discharge of specific pollutants. These National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits are designed to ensure the protection of a stream's designated uses.

Additional Resources

  • Citizen’s Guide to Monitoring Lakes and Streams

    The intent of this guide is to introduce citizens in the Puget Sound area to lake and stream water quality monitoring. Because lakes and streams are very different systems, and because most readers will be interested in monitoring one or the other, each is described separately.

  • Wikipedia: Properties of Water

    Water (H2O) is a polar inorganic compound that is at room temperature a tasteless and odorless liquid, which is nearly colorless apart from an inherent hint of blue. It is by far the most studied chemical compound and is described as the "universal solvent" and the "solvent of life." It is the most abundant substance on Earth and the only common substance to exist as a solid, liquid, and gas on Earth's surface.

  • Bacteria Monitoring

    The content of this training manual will not provide a comprehensive approach to stream monitoring methods but will instead supplement other training manuals by focusing on the single parameter, E. coli, and provide detailed information on methods and analyses for E. coli stream monitoring.

  • Estimating Bacteria Reductions from Septic Repair/Replacement

    This tool estimates load reductions from septic upgrades. You will need to enter numbers in the unit,gal/person/day, and efficiency columns. Fully failing systems add more bacteria to the stream than partial or seasonally failing systems.

  • What is the % Saturation of Dissolved Oxygen in Water?

    Oxygen percent saturation compares an observed oxygen concentration to the absolute solubility of oxygen at a particular water temperature. Solubility of gases increases by an amount equal to the surface saturation concentration for about every 10 m increase in depth.

  • Marcellous Shale Monitoring Resources (Dickinson College)

    The Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring (ALLARM) envisions people who are empowered through science education to participate in decision making about water resources in their local community. ALLARM is a program of Dickinson College that achieves its mission by providing an enhanced educational experience for Dickinson students to learn fundamental environmental, community engagement, science education, and non-profit skills.

  • Periodic Table of Elements

    The periodic table is an arrangment of the chemical elements ordered by atomic number so that periodic properties of the elements (chemical periodicity) are made clear.

  • Overview of Pollutant Loads

    What is the difference between measuring the concentration of a pollutant and knowing what the load of the pollutant is? This contains a vareity of resources that provide a better understanding as well as tools for calculating pollutant loads.

  • River Networks Virtual Training: Introduction to the Clean Water Act

    This course is designed to give you options about how to learn about and use the Clean Water Act based on your own interests. The course is a companion to our book, The Clean Water Act: An Owner’s Manual. Course content is structured to help you isolate specific problems, identify possible solutions, develop and leverage existing programs, and build effective outreach tools. The Goal is to help you understand the laws established to protect our diverse water and the power you have to exercise this knowledge.

  • Statewide Water Quality Trends (2010 - 2015)

    The goal of WVDEP’s probabilistic monitoring program is to provide statistically unbiased estimates of stream condition throughout a region (i.e., watershed, ecoregion or state) without assessing every stream mile in that region. This report provides an analyses water quality data collected at 313 sites, from 2010 – 2015.

  • TU/WVRC Volunteer Monitoring Program

    TU and its West Virginia and Virginia Councils are partnering with the West Virginia Rivers Coalition (WVRC) and focus on training volunteers to monitor coldwater resources in West Virginia and Virginia that have the potential to be impacted by the increasing shale gas development or are currently experience shale gas development.

  • USA Volunteer Monitoring Network

    This site is intended to help share resources among programs, to help coordinators learn tips for successfully managing their programs over time, and to help programs network. It also serves as a location to help those seeking work in water-related positions (especially as related to volunteer monitoring, citizen science, and outreach) find organizations that have open positions.

  • USEPA's Water Quality Standards Academy

    To support water quality standards development, we offer the Water Quality Standards Academy (WQSA), which presents classroom-based and online courses, along with occasional webinars.

  • Wolf Creek Evaluation

    An activity designed to analyze the conditions of a watershed using basic water chemistry.

Tools and Reports