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Water quality field testing

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pH - a measure of the acidity of the water. Most fresh water sources have a pH of 6-8. The ocean's pH is ~8.3. A pH above 7 is considered preferable because enteric pathogens prefer a pH below 7.

Enteric Pathogen - diseases which attack the digestive system such as Typhoid and Cholera

Sedimentation - passing the water through a very calm, pond like structure so that the solids will settle out.

Coagulation - using chemicals such as allum to accelerate sedimentation.

Turbidity - the cloudiness of the water


There are many types of contaminates, each of which must be tested for individually. Water treatement options are then evaluated based on the presence or absence of these contaminants.

Contamination types Contamination Agents Comments
Physical Particles and suspended solids It is common to experience large seasional variance in quantity of particles and suspended solids. When choosing intake location, consideration of the natural features such as flood terracing should be made to optimize the placement of the intake
Biological Faecal waste Faecal contamination is detected via the methods described in Water Quality Field Testing and approprate treatment methods determined based on those results. Common diseases spreat through Faecal contaminataion include cholera and typhoid fever.
Algae Algae can result in bad taste. It is difficult to remove with coagulants and can speed up deterioration of sand filters. Bankside filtration can help to avoid these problems
Chemical Minerals, soil type High salinity (due to the presense of Sodium ions) is treated with expensive procedures such as reverse osmosis and distillation. pH (due to the presence or lack of Hydrogen ions) must also be considered as its levels influence coagulant and chlorine dosages and contact times

The pH and salinity of different sources can vary, even though the sources may be in a close proximity. pH is an important factor where treatment involves the addition of coagulants (alum etc) as the quantity to be added is influenced by pH, as is the contact time for chlorine.


Turbidity is measured in Nephlometric Turbidity Units (NTU). A Turbidity Tube is required for this and can be built from scratch

If it is found that your water has NTU greater than 5, a sedimentation test should be conducted. The results of the sedimentation test will determine if sedimentation alone is adequate and if so, how large a sedimentation basin is required. Also, if sedimentation is ineffective at removing the suspended solids, coagulation may be necessary.

Some information can be obtained visually. If the water is greenish, organic material is present. If large particles are present, sedimentation is likely to be effective. If the particles are microscopic, coagulation is more likely to be necessary.


pH levels can be tested with a pool tester and should be between 6.5 and 8.5. Chlorine reaction times are slowed above a pH of 8. Allum effectiveness is reduced for pH outside of

Total Dissolved Solids[edit]

Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) is a mass measurement of all of the physical contaminants in the water including silt, clay, salts, algae, Coliform, etc. Can be quickly measured with a TDS meterW

Fecal Coliform[edit]

Coliform W are a classification of bacteria based on their shape and response to dyes. Some species of Coliform are found in the feces of warm blooded animals. These bacteria are not harmful but indicate the presence of a health risk. In an emergency, the presence of Coliform can be used as the sole determinant of water quality. See Emergency water quality field testing for details on how to detect Coliform in the field.


In low quantities, iron is a required nutrient for all known organisms. However it should be limited to 3mg/l and can be measured with a simple comparator