Water Science School

FAQ

So, you say the water from your faucet smells like rotten eggs? Maybe you wonder how water gets to your house way up on that hilltop or would like to know why your pond is full of slimy green algae. Hopefully, this FAQ's page can supply you with some answers. 

How are floods predicted?

Flood predictions require several types of data: The amount of rainfall occurring on a realtime basis. The rate of change in river stage on a realtime basis, which can help indicate the severity and immediacy of the threat. Knowledge about the type of storm producing the moisture, such as duration, intensity and areal extent, which can be valuable...

What is Devils Hole in Nevada?

Devils Hole is a tectonic cave developed in the discharge zone of a regional aquifer in south-central Nevada. The walls of this predominantly subaqueous (underwater) cavern are coated with dense vein calcite that precipitated from groundwater moving through the cavern. The stable isotopic content of the calcite provides a 500,000-year record of...

What is the difference between a confined and an unconfined (water-table) aquifer?

A confined aquifer is an aquifer below the land surface that is saturated with water. Layers of impermeable material are both above and below the aquifer, causing it to be under pressure so that when the aquifer is penetrated by a well, the water will rise above the top of the aquifer. A water-table--or unconfined--aquifer is an aquifer whose...

Why doesn't a drought end when it rains?

Rainfall in any form will provide some drought relief. A good analogy might be how medicine and illness relate to each other. A single dose of medicine can alleviate symptoms of illness, but it usually takes a sustained program of medication to cure an illness. Likewise, a single rainstorm will not break the drought, but it might provide temporary...

What is groundwater?

Groundwater is water that exists underground in saturated zones beneath the land surface. The upper surface of the saturated zone is called the water table. Contrary to popular belief, groundwater does not form underground rivers. It fills the pores and fractures in underground materials such as sand, gravel, and other rock, much the same way that...

When does a drought begin and end?

The beginning of a drought is difficult to determine. Several weeks, months, or even years might pass before people know that a drought is occurring. The end of a drought can occur as gradually as it began. The first evidence of drought is usually seen in records of rainfall. Within a short period of time, the amount of moisture in soils can begin...

What causes drought?

A drought is a period of drier-than-normal conditions that results in water-related problems. The amount of precipitation at a particular location varies from year to year, but over a period of years, the average amount is fairly constant. In the deserts of the Southwest, the average precipitation is less than 3 inches per year. In contrast, the...

What are the two types of floods?

There are two basic types of floods: flash floods and the more widespread river floods. Flash floods generally cause greater loss of life and river floods generally cause greater loss of property. A flash flood occurs when runoff from excessive rainfall causes a rapid rise in the water height (stage) of a stream or normally-dry channel. Flash...

Where can I find information about bottled water?

Bottled water is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and by individual states. For general information about bottled water, sources include the International Bottled Water Association and NSF International .

Does the use of pesticides affect our Nation's water quality?

Pesticide use in the United States has increased because not only must we supply our exploding population with food, but crops and food are also grown for export to other countries. The United States has become the largest producer of food products in the world, partly owing to our use of modern chemicals (pesticides) to control the insects, weeds...

Do you have information about water hardness in the United States?

View a national map of hardness in surface water on the USGS water hardness website. Hardness data (reflecting mostly calcium, plus a little magnesium) for individual drinking-water suppliers is at the EPA Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water website. It is important to note that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not set a...

How frequently are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) detected in groundwater?

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are widely used in the manufacture of many products including refrigerants, plastics, adhesives, paints, and petroleum products, have been detected in about one-third of the wells sampled by the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Chloroform and other...

How does acid precipitation affect marble and limestone buildings?

When sulfurous, sulfuric, and nitric acids in polluted air and rain react with the calcite in marble and limestone, the calcite dissolves. In exposed areas of buildings and statues, we see roughened surfaces, removal of material, and loss of carved details. Stone surface material may be lost all over or only in spots that are more reactive. You...

How does mine drainage occur?

Mine drainage is formed when pyrite (an iron sulfide) is exposed and reacts with air and water to form sulfuric acid and dissolved iron. Some or all of this iron can precipitate to form the red, orange, or yellow sediments in the bottom of streams containing mine drainage. The acid runoff further dissolves heavy metals such as copper, lead, and...

What is methane and why is it a safety concern?

Methane (a gas composed of carbon and hydrogen) is produced two ways. The first is through biologic decomposition of organic matter at shallow depths. Swamps, landfills, and even shallow bedrock are some settings where this occurs. Methane can also be derived over millions of years by high pressure and high temperature processes that produce...