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Glossary of Terms
Related to Natural Waters and Water Quality

advanced sewage treatment Any process designed to remove nutrients, organic chemicals, or other substances not removed from sewage by primary or secondary treatment
algae Aquatic plants without true stems, roots, or leaves, ranging from tiny free-floating single cells to huge seaweeds that become fastened to rocks
algal bloom A lush growth of algae, fueled by warm temperatures and abundant nutrients
anadromous fish Fish that are born in freshwater, live in saltwater, and return to freshwater to spawn
benthos All plants and animals that live on or in the sea floor
biodegradable Can be broken down by microorganisms
biological nutrient removal Process that combines the action of aerobic and anaerobic bacteria to remove nitrogen from sewage
combined sewer A sewer that carries both sewage and street runoff
combined sewer overflow (CSO) Release to natural waters of partially treated mixture of sewage and street runoff, usually necessary after heavy rain
crustaceans Shell-encased aquatic invertebrates having heads with antennae and segmented bodies with various appendages, for example, lobsters, crabs, and shrimp
erosion The wearing away of soil by water, wind, and other forces
estuary A partly enclosed coastal body of water where seawater and freshwater meet and mix
floatables Waterborne debris
food web Interconnected food chains, each consisting of a sequence of organisms eaten by organisms higher in the chain
habitat An area where conditions allow specific kinds of plants and animals to live
hypoxia Low concentration of dissolved oxygen in the water
intertidal zone The area between the normal low and high tide levels
invertebrate Animal without a spinal column
leachfield Area where wastewater from a septic system drains into the soil
mollusks Invertebrates with soft bodies usually inside a shell, for example, clams, oysters, and mussels
moraine An accumulation of rocky material transported and desposited by glacial ice
nonpoint source of pollution An nonlocalized source of wastewater flow, such as stormwater runoff or groundwater seepage
nutrients Substances essential to living things
organic matter Matter composed of living things or produced by them
organic substance A pure chemical or mixture produced by a plant or animal, or a synthetic substance of related composition; a substance containing carbon, hydrogen, and often certain other elements
pathogens Microorganisms that cause illness
pesticide A natural or synthetic chemical used to kill a bothersome plant or animal
photosynthesis Synthesis of carbohydrates by plants, using carbon dioxide and water in the presence of sunlight and with simultaneous production of oxygen
plankton Microscopic plants (phytoplankton, which are single-celled algae) or animals (zooplankton) that mainly drift with the tides
point source of pollution A pipe, ditch, or other outlet discharging wastewater into a natural body of water
pollutant Anything in the air, water, or earth that is harmful or interferes with a desired activity (For information on specific pollutants, see section on Pollutants in Long Island Sound)
primary sewage treatment Process that removes solids from sewage
pycnocline Boundary between colder, saltier, denser water at the bottom and warmer, less salty, less dense water on the surface
salinity The concentration of salt dissolved in water
salt marsh A productive, grassy habitat covered part of the time by estuarine or coastal waters Sewers carrying human waste
sanitary sewers Sewers carrying human waste
secondary sewage treatment Process that uses biological action to remove organic matter from sewage
sediment Solid fragments produced by natural processes such as the weathering of rock and carried along in water or ice; also, the layers produced when these fragments are deposited
septic tank Tank that receives wastewater from a building served by a septic system
sewage Water carrying waste from homes, business, industries, and other institutions; wastewater
sewer system Complex of pipes and pumps that carries sewage to a sewage treatment plant and sometimes also carries water from storm drains
shellfish Aquatic invertebrates with shells; mollusks and crustaceans
shorebirds Birds that live along the shore, such as egrets and blue herons
sludge Semi-solid material that settles out of wastewater in septic systems and sewage treatment plants
storm sewers Sewers carrying road and parking lot runoff
tidal flats Flat marshy, sandy, or muddy areas that have little plant life and are exposed at low tide; often between salt marshes and the low tide line
tidal wetland A region that lies beneath or borders on an area where tides rise and fall; also defined by the growth of certain types of plants. Distinct from inland, or freshwater, wetlands
toxic Related to a poisonous effect; "toxics" often refers to heavy metals, pesticides, and other organic substances as pollutants
transpiration Passage of water vapor from plants
water column All the water between the bottom of a body of water and the surface
waterfowl Birds that swim, such as ducks and swans
watershed The entire land and water area that drains into a river, lake, estuary, or ocean

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