Glossary of terms


acid (AS – id) — any compound that can react with a base to form a salt; term applied to water with a pH of less than 7.0 on a scale of 0 to 14

alkaline (AL – ka – line) — the condition of water or soil that contains an amount of alkali substances (various soluble salts) to raise the pH above 7.0

aquifer (OCK – wuh – fer) — a layer of underground rock or sand that stores and carries water

artesian (are – TEE – shun) pressure — the force created when pressure in an aquifer causes the water level in wells to rise above the top of the aquifer

artesian [flowing] well — a well that is drilled into an aquifer, relieving pressure and causing water to rise above the water table


brackish (BRAK – ish) water — a mixture of freshwater and salt water


condensation (CON – den – SAY – shun) — moisture formed when warm vapor mixes with cooler air in the atmosphere

confining (con – FINE – ing) layer — a layer of clay or rock that acts as a shield to keep water from escaping from an aquifer or zone

conserve (con – SIRV) — to use only what is needed

consumers (con – SOOM – ers) — those who eat food

contaminate (cun – tammy – NATE) — to make impure (not pure) by contact or addition of something; to pollute or soil


dam — a man-made barrier built to hold back or control flowing water in a river or lake

decompose (DEE – kum – POZE) — to decay

dehydration (DEE – hi – DRAY – shun) — the process of losing or removing water

desalination (dee – SAL – ah – NAY – shun) — any of numerous processes that remove the salt from salty water

detritus (de – TRITE – us) — decaying leaves and plants

dike — a bank, usually of earth, built to control or confine water

drainage (DRAIN – ij) basin — the area from which water drains off the land into a specific body of water (lake, stream)

drought (drout) — a long period of time with little or no rain


ecosystem (EE – koh – SIS – tem) — a natural community of animals and plants that interrelate, or depend on each other, and their environment

effluent (EFF – lew – ent) — something that flows out or forth; a waste liquid discharge from a manufacturing or treatment process, in it’s natural state or partially or completely treated, that discharges into the environment

endangered species (en – DANE – jurd SPEE – sheez) — any plant or animal in immediate danger of becoming extinct as identified in accordance with the 1973 Endangered Species Act

erode (eh – RODE) — to wear away or dissolve

erosion (ee – RO – zhun) — the process of wearing away, as when erosion of land is caused by water flowing over it

estuary (ES – chew – air – ee) — a body of water where freshwater and salt water meet and mix

evaporation (ee – VAP – oh – RAY – shun) — the process of water changing from a liquid to a gas or vapor

exotic (eg – ZOT – ic) — not native to the place where found


first-magnitude (MAG – nih – tood) spring — a spring that discharges an average of at least 64.6 million gallons of water per day

flood (FLUHD) — the overflow of too much water onto an area that is normally dry

floodplain (FLUHD – plane) — an area of flat land along a river which periodically floods

food web — interrelated food chains of an ecosystem whereby energy, in the form of food, is passed from one living thing to another

forested swamp (FOR – res – tid – swomp) — wetlands with trees usually found along the floodplains of rivers

freshwater marsh — an area of shallow freshwater covered with saw grass, cattails, maidencane and other grasses

freshwater wetland — a broad, flat piece of land covered with freshwater most of the time and containing freshwater grasses and plants


groundwater — water found below the earth’s surface


habitat (HAB – i – tat) — the place where a plant or animal normally grows or lives; a native environment

hazardous wastes (HAZ – er – dis) — products that can be dangerous or harmful if not disposed of properly (such as insect repellents, paint products, gas or oil)

headwaters — the source or starting point of a river


impermeable (im – PURR – me – uh – bull) — the ability of a material to prevent liquids from passing through it

incinerate (in – SIN – er – ate) — to burn something until it turns to ashes

indigenous (in – DIJ – ah – ness) — existing, growing or produced naturally in a particular region

interdependent (EN-ter-dee-PEN-dent) — things that depend on each other for their survival

invertebrates — animals without backbones, such as worms and snails

irrigate (EAR – ah – gate) — to apply water to an area using a hose, sprinkler or other method

irrigation (ear – ah – GAY – shun) — the application of water to an area using a hose, sprinkler or other method


landscape — an area where lawns, shrubs, or other items have been placed in order to make an area more attractive

landfill — a place where garbage is collected, stored and buried

levee (LEV – ee) — a high earthern ridge built to keep nearby land from flooding (similar to a dike)

littoral (LI – ter – ull) zone — the shallow area at or near the shore of a non-flowing body of water that may have attached or rooted plants


mouth of a river — the place where the river empties into another body of water


nonpoint source pollution (pah – LEW – shun) — pollution that cannot be traced to a particular source or point of entry

nonporous (POUR – us) — does not allow water to move through it


percolation (purr – koh – LAY – shun) — the act of water working its way into the ground

permeable (PURR – me – uh – bull) — the ability of a material to allow liquids to pass through it

permit — a legal document that allows the holder to do certain restricted activities

pH — measure of acidity and alkalinity

photic (FOH- tik) zone — the area of a lake or water body where there is enough light for photosynthesis to take place

photosynthesis (FOH – toh – SIN – tha – sis) — a process by which plants use energy from the sun to make food and oxygen

phytoplankton (FI – toe – PLANK – ton) — microscopic aquatic plants

point source pollution (pah – LEW – shun) — pollution that can be traced to a particular source or point of entry

pollution (pah – LEW – shun) — contamination of water or air by harmful chemicals or waste materials

porous (POUR – us) — allows water to move through it

potable (POH – tuh – bull) — drinkable; safe to drink

precipitation (pre – sih – puh – TAY – shun) — moisture that falls back to earth as rain, hail, sleet or snow

primary consumer (con – SOOM – er) — first class of animals in the food chain, which eat plants or detritus

producers — those who make or become food for others to eat


recharge — the process of water seeping into the ground and refilling the aquifer

recharge area — a place where water is able to seep into the ground and refill an aquifer because no confining layer is present

reclaimed water — water that has been used and then treated or cleansed so that it is safe to be used again

recycle — to use more than once

reduce — to lessen in amount, to use less

reservoir (REZ – er – VWAR) — a natural or man-made basin where water is collected and stored

restore — to return something to its original condition

reuse — the act of using something after it has already been used

retention (ree – TIN – shun) ponds — man-made ponds designed to slow storm water runoff. The ponds allow many stormwater pollutants to settle out, preventing them from flowing into nearby surface water bodies

reverse osmosis (oz – MOW – sis) — the process of turning salt water into freshwater. The salt water is forced under pressure against a membrane that filters out the salt, allowing only freshwater to flow through

runoff — water from rain or irrigation that doesn’t soak into the ground, but flows into the nearest body of water


saltwater intrusion (in – TRUE – zhun) — a process in which salty water is drawn into the freshwater zone of an aquifer, making that source not fit for drinking

saltwater marsh — area of shallow salt water, usually found along the coast, covered with salt-tolerant grasses, spartina and other non-woody plants

saltwater wetland — a flat piece of land covered with brackish (slightly salty) or salt water and containing saltwater plants; usually found along the coast

secondary consumer (con – SOOM – er) — second class of animals in the food chain; animals that prey on plant-eating primary consumers

sinkhole — a hole or depression in the ground caused by erosion of underground limestone

sludge (sluj) — the gooey, muddy solids that remain after wastewater is treated

spring — a natural flow of water at the earth’s surface, caused by pressure on groundwater

steward (STOO – ard) — an individual charged with the responsibility for management

stormwater runoff — rainwater that runs off a hard surface into the nearest body of water

surface water — water found on the surface of the ground (rivers, lakes, streams, ponds)

swamp (swomp) — a flat, low-lying freshwater wetland with trees and other vegetation


tertiary (TUR – she – air – ee) consumers — third class of animals in the food chain; animals that eat other animals; the top predators; the biggest or fastest animals in the food chain

threatened species — any plant or animal whose population is decreasing to critical levels as identified in the 1973 Endangered Species Act.

top predators (PRED – ah – ter) — animals at the top of the food chain

toxic wastes — garbage or wastes containing harmful materials

transpiration (TRANS – pah – RAY – shun) — the process of giving off moisture through the surface of leaves

tributaries (TRIB – you – tair – ees) — small streams or rivers that flow into larger streams or rivers


undeveloped uplands — uplands that are still in their natural state


vegetation (VEJ – ah – TAY – shun) — grasses and plants that grow in a specific area

vertebrates — animals with a backbone or spinal column such as mammals, birds, fishes, reptiles and amphibians


wastewater — water that has been used and is no longer clean

water conservation (con – sir – VAY – shun) — the act of using only as much water as is needed; the protection and wise use of water

water cycle — the process of water moving from the earth into the atmosphere and back to earth again

water restrictions — rules limiting the times and ways in which people can use water

watershed — an area of land that drains surface water runoff into a water body

wetlands — land where the soil is very wet or soaked with water most of the time; marshes or swamps


Xeriscape(ZEER – eh – skape) — a type of landscape designed to use water efficiently*


zones — underground layers of freshwater or salt water

zooplankton (ZO – o – PLANK – ton) — microscopic aquatic animals

* The word Xeriscape is a registered trademark of Denver Water in Denver, Colo. Before using the word Xeriscape, be certain to obtain written permission from this authority. Write to Denver Water, 1600 West 12th Ave., Denver, CO 80254 or call 303-628-6329.