What's in Our Water?

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Detailed Description

In this episode, we are going to investigate more than just the substance "water." We are going to examine what is in our nations' water, how we at the U.S. Geological Survey monitor it, and what tools we have developed to aid those who want to explore more about our planet's most abundant resource. This is the USGS Oregon Science Podcast.

Details

Episode Number: 3

Date Taken:

Length: 00:07:16

Location Taken: US

Transcript

[Intro Music begins]

[Steven Sobieszczyk] Water. Such a simple molecule.

Just two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen. Small.

Innocuous. Yet when combined with countless others, it

has the power to reshape the entire planet. One of the

basic building blocks of life, water is much is more than

just a simple liquid. Entrained in water is a whole world

of microscopic materials. Sediment. Organisms.

Dissolved minerals. Even harmful chemicals. In this

episode, we are going to investigate more than just the

substance - water. We are going to examine what is in

our nations’ water, how we at the U.S. Geological

Survey monitor it, and what tools we have developed to

aid those who want to explore more about our planet’s

most abundant resource. This is…the USGS Oregon Science Podcast.

[Steven Sobieszczyk] The term “water quality” covers a

vast range of physical and chemical traits of water. It can

refer to any number of characteristics of water, such as

dissolved or particulate matter trapped in the water

column. This may include materials like dissolved

minerals (sodium and potassium, for example) or

suspended particles like organic carbon (which is

basically broken down leaf litter or other decomposing

organic matter) or fine-grained sediment (such as dirt

washed away from hillsides). In addition, those who

investigate water quality may be interested in other

water properties like acidity or conductivity. Or, in the

case of greatest concern for most people, pollution. To

help simplify this potentially overwhelming subject of

water quality, we will focus on conditions in local

streams here in Oregon.

[Stewart Rounds] So living here in the Pacific

Northwest, we really are blessed with some great water

resources. We have wonderful streams and lakes.

Although, there are some places where people say, “I

wouldn’t want to swim or fish in that river! Oh, it’s

disgusting!” You know, let’s think about this problem

with a little bit of perspective. Back in the 1930s and

40s, boy, the Willamette was an open sewer. But, there

was a big cleanup that happened in the 1940s and as we

understand, a little bit more about some of the types of

water-quality problems there were successive cleanups.

There was another big cleanup in the 1970s and the

1990s. So, today, you can go swimming in the

Willamette River. You can go fishing in the Willamette

River and it’s really in pretty good condition.

[Steven Sobieszczyk] Dr. Stewart Rounds is the USGS

Water Quality Specialist in Oregon. As with most

hydrologists, Stewart has always had a passion for water.

[Stewart Rounds] You know, water quality has always

been something that has interested me. Ever since I was

a kid. I wanted to know how things work. And I look at

a river and I want to know more about it. I want to know

where the water comes from, how good the water quality

is, whether it’s good for fish, what its carrying, where

it’s going to, how things change… Understanding

processes in natural systems, it’s just fascinating.

[Steven Sobieszczyk] Dr. Round’s research focuses on

water-quality monitoring of rivers and lakes, including

water temperature, nutrient transport, and water-related

concerns due to algae. What types of problems do algae

cause in our local rivers? Well…that all depends on how

much algae there is.

[Stewart Rounds] So, algae is an important thing that

we study and it’s not entirely a bad thing, right? Algae is

the base of the food chain. If we didn’t have algae than

we wouldn’t have anything for the zooplankton to eat.

And if the zooplankton didn’t eat anything than we

wouldn’t have any food for the fish. And if we don’t

have fish, well, you can take it from there. So algae is

good in many ways because it’s the base of the food

chain. On the other had we don’t want too much of a

good thing because then it can lead to pH levels that are

too high, which is not good for fish. Or when the algae

are no longer growing, they can use up too much oxygen

and cause problems that way.

[Steven Sobieszczyk] Algae is just one of many

parameters, or characteristics, of water quality that the

USGS monitors. Other parameters commonly measured

include water temperature, pH (or acidity), and turbidity

(which is the cloudiness or dirtiness of water). All of

these data are collected and stored online in our National

Water Information System, or NWIS, database. The

water quality data are free, and can be accessed through

the NWIS website, or through the online software

package, USGS Data Grapher.

[Stewart Rounds] So the data grapher is set of online

tools that allow users to create customized graphs and

tables of a whole variety of time-series data that are

served up by the U.S. Geological Survey. Let’s start by

looking at a time series graph from one site. In this

example, let’s take a look at some pH data from the

Clackamas River near the mouth of that river at Oregon

City. The results show you some of the inputs that you

ask for and the graph, and you can see that the pH values

in mid-summer can reach relatively high values near 9,

and that the patterns in pH decrease when the streamflow

goes up. Another way to visualize those patters in the pH

data in the Clackamas River is to use a color map. The

color map shows some interesting patterns that we saw

in the time series graph. We had higher pH values at

particular times in the spring and summer and we had

lower pH values for a time between those peaks when

the discharge was higher.

[Steven Sobieszczyk] As part of its overall mission, the

USGS measures the quantity and quality of the nation’s

waters. This work is completed through the use of a

network of over 7,000 streamflow gages. In Oregon

alone, there are over 200 streamflow monitoring

locations, many of which also continuously monitor

different water-quality properties. Each year, scientists,

like Dr. Rounds, continue to observe lakes and rivers,

and through new tools they develop, help explore how

water quality changes in the world around us. For more

on what the USGS is doing through its National Water

Quality Assessment Program or through other

cooperative programs in the state, please visit our water

resources information website at usgs.gov/water.

END OF TRANSCRIPT.