Kids in yellow vests marking storm drains with educational messages

Stormwater Vocabulary Terms

Understanding stormwater

Term Definition
Bacteria Single-celled, or simple, organisms not visible to the naked eye, can survive in extreme conditions.
Benthic Macroinvertebrate Benthic (meaning "bottom-dwelling") macroinvertebrates are small aquatic animals and the aquatic larval stages of insects.
Catch Basin A depression, trench, or pit, which is a collection point for stormwater drainage from an outside surface area.
Cistern A tank or reservoir for holding rainwater.
Clean Water Act Federal law established in 1972, the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the US.
Climate Change The long-term alteration of temperature and typical weather patterns in a place.
Dissolved Oxygen The amount of oxygen that is present in water.
Drinking water Potable water - Water is free from harmful bacteria, germs, suspended impurities and salts. It is clear, colorless and odorless.
Erosion The geological process in which earthen materials are worn away and transported by natural forces such as wind or water.
Estuary A partially enclosed body of water where fresh water from rivers and streams mixes with salt water from the ocean. It is an area of transition from land to sea.
Fertilizer A substance (such as manure or a chemical mixture) used to make soil more fertile.
Flood A condition of overflowing rivers.
Floodplain Area next to a creek or river that floods.
Geographic Information System (GIS) A system that creates, manages, analyzes & maps all types of data. GIS connects data to a map, integrating location.
Green Space Land that is partly or completely covered with grass, trees, shrubs, or other vegetation.
Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) The range of measures that use plant or soil systems, permeable pavement or other permeable surfaces or substrates, stormwater harvest and reuse, or landscaping to store, infiltrate, or evapotranspirate stormwater .
Hydrology A science dealing with the properties, distribution, and circulation of water on and below the earth's surface and in the atmosphere.
Impervious or Impereable Any surface or groundcover that has no capacity to absorb or infiltrate water.
Nitrogen A naturally occurring element that is essential for growth and reproduction in both plants and animals.
Non-Potable Water Water is captured, treated, and used for non-drinking purposes, such as toilet flushing, clothes washing, and irrigation.
Pervious Any surface or groundcover that allows water to pass through or infiltrate.
Pesticides Any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling or mitigating any pest.
PH Indicates acidity of a solution on a scale of 0 to 14, with pH 7 being neutral.
Phosphorus Nonmetallic chemical element of the nitrogen family.
Pollutant A substance or energy introduced into the environment that has undesired effects, or adversely affects the usefulness of a resource.
Potable Water Water that is safe to drink or use, drinking water.
Precipitation Water that is falling from the sky, could be rain drizzle, snow, sleet or hail.
Rain Barrel A water tank used to collect and store rain water runoff.
Rain Garden A garden that uses plants and layers of soil, sand and mulch to retain rainwater, reducing the amount of polluted runoff that reaches storm drains and local waterways.
River Basin The land area drained by a river and its tributaries.
Sediment Loose particles of sand, silt and clay that settle on the bottom of rivers, lakes, estuaries and oceans.
Storm Drain A drain built to carry away excess water in times of heavy rain.
Stormwater Water that originates during precipitation events and during snow/ice melts. Stormwater can infiltrate into the soil, evaporate into the air, or runoff into nearby surface waters.
Stormwater runoff Excess rainfall that does not infiltrate and instead flows over the surface of the land.
Stream Buffer Natural boundaries between local waterways and existing development. 
Stormwater Swale A long, gently sloping, landscaped depression that collects and cleans stormwater.
Topography The study of the land and water features of an area.
Tree Canopy Refers to the layer of tree leaves, branches, and stems that provide tree coverage of the ground when viewed from above.
Wastewater Water carrying wastes from homes, businesses and industries that is a mixture of water and dissolved or suspended solids.
Water Cycle The process n which water travels in a sequence from the air through condensation to the earth as precipitation and back to the atmosphere by evaporation.
Watershed An area or ridge of land that separates waters flowing to different rivers, basins, or seas.
Wetland Saturated or nearly saturated soils most of the year that form an interface between land-based and aquatic environments.



Carmela Teichman
Stormwater Outreach & Education Specialist 

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