What is Water Quality?

Water quality is impacted by physical (like temperature), chemical (like the amount of oxygen or salt dissolved in the water), and biological factors (things like algae). These all interact to give water different characteristics. Have you noticed how some streams are clear, while others are cloudy? Some are blue and others brown?

Before you can ask whether water quality is "good" or "bad" you have to find out what it will be used for; are you going to drink it, use it to water your garden, or dump sewage into it? Obviously if you are going to drink it you want it to be the best quality (!)

So water may be "good" for some things but not good enough for others. In other words, you may be able to go boating on a particular river but you might not want to drink water from it without first having the water purified. 

Rivers, streams and lakes are classified for different uses. The standards governing how much pollution can legally be dumped in the water will be set by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment so that the quality of the water will stay at the level needed for that use. This means that factories and municipal wastewater treatment plants will have to clean their discharge water more if they are discharging into a river used for drinking water supplies than they would if they are discharging into a stream that has a designated use that doesn't require the water quality to be at such a high level.

Some of the beneficial uses that are used for Kansas streams and rivers are:
  • household water (for example, drinking water)
  • recreation (for example, swimming)
  • providing for the needs of aquatic plants and animals (like fish and mussels)
  • agriculture (for example, irrigation for crops)
  • industrial water supply (for example, water used in coal-fired power plants)
  • recharging groundwater (this may be held in ponds or lakes)

The state of Kansas is a major agricultural state. It is a leading producer of wheat, grain sorghum, corn, sunflowers and soybeans. Kansas is also home to almost 7 million beef and dairy cows, as well as other livestock. The major threats to streams in Kansas are nutrients and bacteria (from fecal matter) and pesticides (from agricultural crops) that wash into streams from runoff during storms. Other threats come from point source polluters including wastewater treatment plants, industrial facilities, runoff from landfills (considered a point source), and coal-fired power plants. 

Water Quality

Link to Google Doc Presentation- you can download this slideshow in Powerpoint

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