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water quality

Glossary of Terms

Advisory; a report giving information on beach contamination status and often recommending action to be taken

Algae; Plant like marine organisms that range in size from microscopic phytoplankton to the giant kelp that can be found washed ashore on our beaches. Algae contains chlorophyll, the same pigment used by land plants to perform photosynthesis.

Algae Bloom; A bloom, or rapid growth, of phytoplankton in the upper layers of the ocean, often due to an influx of nutrients, such as a sediment plume or seasonal upwelling.

; A portion of space on a surface.

Bacteria; prokaryotic unicellular round, spiral, or rod-shaped single-celled microorganisms that live in soil, water, organic matter, or the bodies of plants and animals (singular bacterium.)

Best Management Practice; an engineered structure or management activity, or combination of these, that eliminates or reduces an adverse environmental effect of a pollutant.

Canopy; The uppermost spreading branchy layer of vegetation.

Catch Basin; an opening on the side of street which is the entrance to the storm drain

Coastal Upwelling; An ocean process that occurs most notably on the western coasts of continents when cold nutrient rich bottom water flows to the surface along the continental coastlines. Upwelling is strong in California and Chile where it is closely linked to the fishing industry. Coastal upwelling is greatly reduced during El Niño events.

Coliform Bacteria; Many strains of coliform bacteria are naturally present in our environment. Fecal coliform bacteria are present in the feces of humans and other warm-blooded animals but are rare or absent in unpolluted waters. Fecal coliform bacteria should not be found in sources of drinking water. Their presence in water serves as a reliable indication of contamination from human sewage or animal droppings. Although coliform bacteria themselves are not pathogenic, they occur with intestinal pathogens that are dangerous to human health.

Creek; A stream that is smaller than a river and larger than a brook..

CTD; (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) Common name referring to a scientific instrument that records ocean salinity, temperature, and depth. This instrument can also record a host of other parameters such as nutrient levels and chlorophyll concentrations.

Detention Basin; reservoir designed to slow the rate of flow in an open drainage facility.

Dinoflagellates; Any of an order (Dinoflag-ellata) of chiefly marine, planktonic, usually solitary phytoflagellates (which have many characteristics in common with algae) These organisms are important in marine food chains, and cause red tides.

Dissolved Oxygen (DO); Dissolved Oxygen is important to the health of aquatic ecosystems. All aquatic animals need oxygen to survive. Natural waters with consistently high dissolved oxygen levels are most likely healthy and stable environments, and are capable of supporting a diversity of aquatic organisms. Natural and human-induced changes to the aquatic environment can affect the availability of dissolved oxygen.

Erosion; the natural or human induced process of top soil being worn away.

Estuary; body of water at the lower end of a river which is connected to the ocean and semi-enclosed by land. In an estuary, sea water is measurably diluted by freshwater from the land.

Eutrophication; Too many nutrients entering an ecosystem (nutrient loading) can cause large algal blooms or other growth spurts followed by natural die-off and decay which results in a decreased amount of oxygen available. This can lead to a dangerous cycle of die-offs, which use oxygen in the decay process leading to more die-offs due to low oxygen levels.

Flood Control Channel; open waterway that is designed to carry large amounts of rain water. These structures are often lined with concrete to help control flood waters.

Fumigation; The spreading of pesticide to kill unwanted creatures.

Geological Maps; Maps which show boundaries of countries, cities, and roads.

Groundwater; subterranean water that supplies wells and springs.

Gutter; area formed by the curb and the street to prevent flooding by channeling runoff to storm drains.

Habitat; The area or environment in which an organism lives.

Hydrology; the scientific study of the properties, distribution and effects of water in the atmosphere, on the earth’s surface and in soil and rocks.

Impervious Surface; paved surface or other land cover that does not allow water to percolate into the ground.

Invasive Species; Non-native plants and animal species; plants and animal species that have been introduced to an area where they do not occur naturally.

Marine Debris; the human litter that is found in the marine environment.

Microorganism; an organism of microscopic or ultramicroscopic size.

Molecules; The smallest unit of matter which holds its characteristics.

Native; growing, living or produced originally in a certain place; indigenous.

Native Species; Plants and animal species that have evolved in a specific area over a period of time; naturally occurring species; indigenous.

Nitrate; Nitrate is a nutrient needed by all aquatic plants and animals to build protein. The decomposition of dead plants and animals and the excretions of living animals release nitrate into the aquatic system. Excess nutrients, like nitrate, increase plant growth and decay, promote bacterial decomposition, and therefore decrease the amount of oxygen available in the water. Sewage is the main source of excess nitrate added to natural waters, while fertilizer and agricultural runoff also contribute to high levels of nitrate.

Nitrogen; Nitrogen is the most abundant element in our atmosphere. It is a vital element that is essential to living ecosystems. Nitrogen is a primary nutrient for all green plants.

Non-native Vegetation; Plants that are not native to the local area. These plants are often invasive and compete with or replace native vegetation. This can affect habitat and food supply for native animal species.

Nonpoint Source Pollution; pollution which does not come from a single, identifiable point but from many diffuse sources that are spread out and difficult to identify and control. Examples of nonpoint source pollution are pesticides, pet waste, motor oil and trash.

Outfall; opening at the end of a storm drain system that allows water to flow into a channel, lake, river, bay or ocean.

Pathogen; a specific causative agent (as a bacterium or virus) of disease.

Percolate; to ooze or trickle through a permeable substance; infiltrate.

Percolation; a process where surface waters are absorbed through the soil into ground water.

pH; a measurement of the acidic or basic (alkaline) quality of a substance. The pH scale ranges from a value of 0 (very acidic) to 14 (very basic), with 7 being neutral. The pH of surface water is usually between 6.5 and 8.2. In Santa Barbara, the pH of most surface water is higher than 8. Most aquatic organisms are adapted to a specific pH level and may die if the pH of the water changes even slightly.

Phosphate; a nutrient needed for plant and animal growth and is also a fundamental element in metabolic reactions. High levels of this nutrient can lead to overgrowth of plants, increased bacterial activity, and decreased dissolved oxygen levels. Phosphate comes from several sources including human and animal waste, industrial pollution, and agricultural runoff.

Phosphorous; the eleventh-most abundant mineral in the earth’s crust and does not exist in a gaseous state. It is an essential nutrient for all life forms. Phosphorus plays a role in DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), the basic building block of life. Phosphorus in freshwater and marine systems exists in either a particulate phase (found in sediment plumes) or a dissolved phase (mixed in with the seawater).

Phytoplankton; Microscopic marine plants that live in the upper layer of the world’s oceans and float freely in the water column.

Plankton; A general term for the entire community of microscopic free-floating organisms, including phytoplankton, zooplankton, and a host of other marine organisms. Plankton serves as the primary food source for most marine ecosystems. Many animals like the blue whale feed entirely on planktonic organisms.

Point Source Pollution; pollution from a single identifiable source.

Pollutants; any substance, biological or chemical, in which an identified excess is known to be harmful to desirable organisms (both plants and animals). Some pollutants are toxic or poisonous. Others are dangerous because they stick to feathers (oil and tar) making it impossible for birds to fly or find food, or clog throats and stomachs, and entangle necks (plastic bags and strips) of marine creatures.

Pollution; a human or naturally caused change in physical, chemical, or biological conditions that results in an undesirable effect on the environment; contamination of air, soil, or water by the discharge of harmful substances.

Precipitation; the fall of condensed moisture as rain, snow, hail or sleet.

Riparian; Referring to the riverside or riverine environment next to the stream channel, e.g. riparian, or streamside, vegetation.; of, on, or relating to the bank of a natural course of water.

Riparian Vegetation; plants normally found along the banks and beds of streams, creeks, and rivers. Riparian vegetation includes understory, ground cover, and wetland plants, not just trees.

Runoff; water that flows over land surfaces and does not percolate into the ground.

Runoff Pollution; (also stormwater, urban runoff, and storm drain pollution) rain and water from irrigation, garden hoses, or other activities that washes pollutants off of streets, parking lots, yards, and landscapes and into the storm drain system.

Sediment; particles of matter that enter the water cycle. They are produced by the action of weathering and erosion.

Sediment Plume
; a cloud of sediment that occurs when heavy rains or floods wash large amounts of sediment into the ocean. Visible from the air, apparent in satellite images and CTD data.

Sewer System; (also known as a wastewater collection system) the system of pipes and pump stations that transports wastewater (sewer) from homes and businesses to the wastewater treatment plant.

Source Control; action to prevent pollution at its origin.

Storm Drain; a pipe that travels from the catch basin to the creeks and ocean.

Storm Drain Catch Basin; (also drop inlet, drain inlet) grated or unguarded opening in or at the side of the curb or gutter into which runoff flows.

Storm Drain System; a system which includes grates, gutters, underground pipes, creeks or open channels designed to transport rain from developed areas to a receiving body of water.

Storm Water; runoff in the storm drain system.

Stream; (also arroyo, barranca, creek) small natural waterway originating from underground springs, snow melt, runoff, or other natural sources which drains to lakes, rivers, channels or oceans.)

Surface Water; water found on the surface of the land.

Water Quality; refers to the physical, biological and chemical characteristics of water. These attributes affect the abilit of a water body to sustain aquatic life and safely support recreational and other uses by humans.