What is turbidity and why is it important?
Turbidity is a measure of water clarity how much the material suspended in water decreases the passage of light through the water. Suspended materials include soil particles (clay, silt, and sand), algae, plankton, microbes, and other substances. These materials are typically in the size range of 0.004 mm (clay) to 1.0 mm (sand). Turbidity can affect the color of the water.
Higher turbidity increases water temperatures because suspended particles absorb more heat. This, in turn, reduces the concentration of dissolved oxygen (DO) because warm water holds less DO than cold. Higher turbidity also reduces the amount of light penetrating the water, which reduces photosynthesis and the production of DO. Suspended materials can clog fish gills, reducing resistance to disease in fish, lowering growth rates, and affecting egg and larval development. As the particles settle, they can blanket the stream bottom, especially in slower waters, and smother fish eggs and benthic macroinvertebrates. Sources of turbidity include:
- Soil erosion
- Waste discharge
- Urban runoff
- Eroding stream banks
- Large numbers of bottom feeders (such as carp), which stir up bottom sediments
- Excessive algal growth.