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Drinking Water Quality Standards

Water quality results
Analytical Methods



Alkalinity is a measure of the buffering capacity of water, or the capacity of bases to neutralize acids. Measuring alkalinity is important in determining a stream's ability to neutralize acidic pollution from rainfall or wastewater. Alkalinity does not refer to pH, but instead refers to the ability of water to resist change in pH. The presence of buffering materials help neutralize acids as they are added to the water. These buffering materials are primarily the bases bicarbonate (HCO3-), and carbonate (CO32-), and occasionally hydroxide (OH-), borates, silicates, phosphates, ammonium, sulfides, and organic ligands.

Waters with low alkalinity are very susceptible to changes in pH. Waters with high alkalinity are able to resist major shifts in pH. As increasing amounts of acid are added to a water body, the pH of the water decreases, and the buffering capacity of the water is consumed. If natural buffering materials are present, pH will drop slowly to around 6; then a rapid pH drop occurs as the bicarbonate buffering capacity (CO32- and HCO3-) is used up. At pH 5.5, only very weak buffering ability remains, and the pH drops further with additional acid. A solution having a pH below 4.5 contains no alkalinity, because there are no CO32- or HCO3- ions left.

Alkalinity not only helps regulate the pH of a water body, but also the metal content. Bicarbonate and carbonate ions in water can remove toxic metals (such as lead, arsenic, and cadmium) by precipitating the metals out of solution.