Feb 25

What Do You Mean?

By: Val Thorpe, GSWA Director of Communications & Membership


Sometimes when we work closely on a project or with a group of people, we get caught up in the language of our industry, forgetting that other’s may not be so hip to our lingo. I’m pretty sure we are guilty of that sometimes at GSWA. We’re sorry! The last thing we want to do is derail the very message we are attempting to convey. To preemptively avoid this, we thought we would share a mini:

Glossary of GSWA’s Common Terms

CMA – GSWA’s 73-acre Conservation Management Area, located on Tiger Lily Ln., Harding Township, NJ, offering a network of trails, critical wetlands, freshwater marsh, vernal pools, forested areas, and the Silver Brook (a tributary to the Great Brook and Passaic River). The CMA is also home to several state and federally designated threatened species, including wood turtle and barred owl.

Dissolved Oxygen (DO) – the amount of gaseous oxygen (O2) dissolved in the water. Pollution, water temperature, and the volume of moving water can affect dissolved oxygen levels. Aquatic organisms need DO in order to breathe. It is necessary for the survival of fish, macroinvertebrates, bacteria, and underwater plants, as well as the decomposition of organic matter.

Erosion – the removal or wearing away of soil or rock by water, wind or other forces. Rivers and streams are like systems; if you disturb one part of it, it will cause changes both upstream and downstream. Planting native vegetation along river banks can significantly decrease erosion, due to their expansive root systems.

Estuary – a site where fresh water and salt water meet. For example, the Passaic River joins the Hackensack River and together they end at Newark Bay.

Groundwater – water that soaks into the soil and then flows under the ground, in the zones of soil and bedrock.

Green infrastructure – a cost-effective approach to water management that protects, restores, or even mimics the natural water cycle. Stormwater can result in flooding. Building rain gardens (such as the one on the left), planting trees, or restoring wetlands are more cost-effective methods to manage water vs. building new water treatment plants. In addition, they enhance community safety and quality of life.

Headwaters – the upstream-most sections of a stream; the area where a stream originates.Impervious surfaces – allowing little or no water to infiltrate; water tight. Paved areas and building roofs are the primary impervious surfaces in most urban watersheds.

Macroinvertebrates – organisms without a spine that can to be seen with the naked eye including flatworms, crayfish, snails, and insects such as dragonflies. These organisms are highly sensitive to pollution and serve as indicators of the water and habitat quality in a stream. (Contrary to how you may feel about finding spineless creatures in the water, like this cranefly larva below, it’s a good thing!)

Non-point source pollution – pollution caused by rainfall or snowmelt moving over and through the ground that is not easily attributed to a single source. For example, when it rains, trash, pet waste, rock salt from streets and more are carried into sewers and eventually into the rivers and streams.

pH – a measure hydrogen ion concentration that indicates the relative acidity or alkalinity of a substance. The pH scale ranges from 0 (most acid) to 14 (most basic) with a pH of 7 being neutral.

Point source pollution – an identifiable source of pollution that originates at a single location, like a factory waste discharge pipe.

Runoff – water that drains or flows off the surface of the land.

Stormwater – runoff that flows from the surface of the watershed during a storm. It can soak into the soil, be held on the surface and evaporate, or runoff and end up in nearby streams and rivers.

Swamp – a wetland where the soil is saturated and often inundated with water, and trees are the dominant cover vegetation. Swamps are among the most valuable ecosystems on Earth, acting like giant sponges or reservoirs. When heavy rains cause flooding, swamps and other wetlands absorb excess water, moderating the effects of flooding. The difference between marshes, swamps, bogs, and fens: Marshes are nutrient-rich wetlands that support a variety of reeds and grasses, while swamps are defined by their ability to support woody plants and trees. Bogs are characterized by their poor soil and high peat content, while fens have less peat and more plant life than a bog

Urban area – the region surrounding a city. Urban areas are very developed, meaning there is a density of human structures such as houses, commercial buildings, roads, bridges, and railways.

Water cycle – the continuous circulation of water in systems throughout the planet, involving condensation, precipitation, runoff, evaporation, and transpiration. (Check out the simple water cycle graphic on the left.)

Watershed –an area of land where all the water running under it, and rainfall, drain into a particular body of water – much like a like a bathtub. It is shaped by hills and valleys that determine where the water flows. Everyone lives in a watershed.


Hopefully this has helped clarify a few things. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you ever have any questions. Education is kind of our thing!