The U.S. Geological Survey has launched a Web site that provides real-time data on water temperature, specific conductance, pH level, dissolved oxygen and turbidity for more than 1,300 streams, rivers, lakes, reservoirs and other bodies of water in the United States.
USGS’ system relies on underwater sensors that record the measurements and transmit the information to a monitoring station, which then relays the data via satellite to USGS’ offices, where it is correlated and displayed online.
The initial Web page on USGS’ site provides a snapshot of the United States from which you can drill down to a specific state and select a body of water represented by a triangular icon. When a body of water is selected, the system displays statistics, including a real-time graph of the water temperature during the previous week.
Specific conductance is a measure of a water solution’s ability to conduct electricity and also provides an indication of salinity level. High salinity is an indicator of drought conditions or water evaporation as a result of low humidity. It also might indicate contamination from animal or human wastewater or septic tank leakage into the water supply. An increase in salinity and conductance is not definitive proof of contamination, but the measurement can trigger additional tests for bacteria or other health-related issues.
Turbidity is a measure of suspended particles — such as clay, organic matter or microscopic organisms — that cause water to lose its transparency. This can result from phytoplankton or algae blooms, sediment, pollution, stormwater or local construction runoff, or other factors. High turbidity can make water undrinkable and keep sunlight from reaching far enough into the water to promote the growth of underwater plants.
The pH level is a measure of acidity, which is critical because of how it applies to chemical reactions used in water treatment processes.
Aside from the scientific value of this information, it also could be valuable to anyone who wants to know about the local water conditions for recreational activities such as swimming or fishing.