Monday, April 2, 2018

Episode 414 (4-2-18): Water-quality Monitoring from a Trio of Perspectives

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (4:26).

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, images, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 3-30-18.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of April 2, 2018.

This week, we’re joined by guest host Saalehah Habeebah, the spring 2018 intern at the Virginia Water Resources Research Center.

This week, imagine yourself at my annual dinner celebrating water, where guest are calling out water mystery words.  Have a listen for about 20 seconds, and see if you can guess what the topic of conversation was.

VOICES - ~18 sec

If you guessed that we were talking about water-quality monitoring, then you’re a water-quality monitoring expert!  All of the words you just heard were different properties we test for in streams, lakes, or estuaries.  Scientists often refer to measured properties as parameters.

Water-quality monitoring typically consists of three areas of measurements: biological, chemical, and physical.

Biological monitoring uses the presence, absence, numbers, or condition of various organisms to indicate environmental conditions.  Of the words just called out, algae, aquatic insects, fish, and coliforms are all organisms used to monitor water quality.  A particularly important area of biological monitoring is testing for bacteria, which includes coliforms.  Coliforms are used as indicators of possible sewage contamination, because they are found in human and animal feces.   Coliform presence indicates the potential presence of pathogenic, or disease-causing, bacteria or viruses that also live in human and animal digestive systems.  Some other groups of organisms used in biological monitoring are aquatic plants and molluscs.

Chemical monitoring assesses whether water contains various chemical substances that affect aquatic health.  Remember when you heard the words dissolved oxygen, nitrogen, and pH?  These are examples of chemical parameters.  Chemical monitoring can test for substances that organisms need—such as dissolved oxygen—as well as for potentially harmful substances, called pollutants or contaminants.  For example, chemical contaminants are one of the complex water-quality issues facing the Chesapeake Bay.  Some other chemical parameters are biochemical oxygen demand, total solids, and metals.

Lastly, physical monitoring focuses on non-living and non-chemical attributes of water, as well as tangible, structural materials that affect water bodies.   You heard two physical-monitoring words: temperature and turbidity.  Temperature affects rates of biological and chemical processes; turbidity is a measure of how much sediment water carries, which can affect organisms’ physiology and reproduction.  Some other physical parameters are flow, depth, stream-bottom materials, and streamside vegetation.

Thanks to Blacksburg friends for lending their voices to this episode.  We hope this introduction to the biological, chemical, and physical perspectives of water-quality monitoring will help citizens make informed decisions about Virginia’s waters.


For more Virginia water sounds, music, and information, visit us online at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  Thanks to Ben Cosgrove for his version of “Shenandoah” to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


The water-quality terms were recorded by Virginia Water Radio with several Virginia Tech students in Blacksburg on March 28-29, 2018.  We thank those participants for contributing to this episode.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (2 min./22 sec.) of the “Shenandoah” arrangement/performance by Ben Cosgrove that opens and closes this episode. More information about Mr. Cosgrove is available online at

Algae—such as this population on New River near Whitethorn in Montgomery County, Va., June 15, 2008—are biological indicators of water quality.

Aquatic insects are another group of biological indicators of water quality.  Shown here is the larvae of midge species sampled from Eastland Creek in Wise County, Va., in October 2012.  (Specimens courtesy of Tony Timpano and Kriddie Whitmore, Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Conservation.  Photo by Eric Day, Virginia Tech Department of Entomology.)
When present in a water body, polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs—such as those leading to a fish-consumption advisory sign along the New River at Whitethorne in Montgomery County, Va., March 7, 2010—are an aspect of chemical water quality.
Stream flow, woody debris and rocks in the channel, and the impacts of streamside vegetation on light and temperature are all physical factors affecting the Roanoke River in this photo from the Blue Ridge Parkway on June 15, 2017.


Used for Audio

Chesapeake Bay Program, “Learn the Issues,” online at at

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency/Office of Water, Volunteer Stream Monitoring: A Methods Manual (EPA 841-B-97-003), November 1997, online (as a PDF) at

North Carolina State University Water Quality Group, “Biomonitoring,” online at

For More Information about Water Quality
Coastal and Marine EUCC and EUCC Mediterrean Centre’ CoastLearn Web site, “Water Quality Management,” online at

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Water Quality Standards: Regulations and Resources,” online at

U.S. EPA, “Water Topics,” online at

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), “National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Project,” online at

USGS, “Water Science School/Water Quality,” online at

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, “Water Quality Information and TMDLs,” online at


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (  See particularly the “Overall Importance of Water” and “Science” subject categories.

Following are links to some other episodes on water quality.
Water quality in general (including Virginia agencies involved) – Episode 94, 1/9/12; Episode 378, 7/24/17.
Water quality and coal – Episode 97, 1/30/12; Episode 98, 2/6/12; Episode 99, 2/13/12.
Water quality and natural gas – Episode 380, 8/7/17.
Water quality assessment using aquatic insects or other macroinvertebrates – Episode 81, 9/26/11; Episode 363, 4/10/17.


This episode may help with the following Virginia 2010 Science SOLs.

Grades K-6 Scientific Investigation, Reasoning, and Logic Theme

3.1, 4.1, 5.1, and 6.1 – current applications to reinforce science concepts.

Grades K-6 Earth Patterns, Cycles, and Change Theme
3.9 – water cycle, including sources of water, energy driving water cycle, water essential for living things, and water limitations and conservation.

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 –Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.
6.9 – public policy decisions related to the environment (including resource management and conservation, land use decision, hazard mitigation, cost/benefit assessments).

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
4.5 – ecosystem interactions and human influences on ecosystem.
6.7 – natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Va. watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; health and safety issues; and water monitoring.

Life Science Course
LS.1 – current applications to reinforce life science concepts.
LS.11 – relationships between ecosystem dynamics and human activity.

Earth Science Course
ES.1 – current applications to reinforce science concepts.
ES.2 - understanding scientific reasoning, logic, and the nature of science.
ES.8 - influences by geologic processes and the activities of humans on freshwater resources, including identification of groundwater and major watershed systems in Virginia.

Biology Course
BIO.8 - dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

Chemistry Course
CH.1 – current applications to reinforce science concepts.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at

Following are links to previous Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.
Episode 250 (1-26-15) – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255 (3-2-15) – on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282 (9-21-15) – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309 (3-28-16) – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 332 (9-12-16) – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 403 (1-15-18) – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 404 (1-22-18) – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 406 (2-5-18) – on ice on rivers, for middle school.
Episode 407 (2-12-19)
– on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.