Learning the Language of Springs

Glossary of Terms

You will quickly learn that the study of springs has incorporated a number of terms, some created specifically for springs, and others involving common terms given a certain springs twist.  To assist you with both learning about and more importantly teaching others about springs, this glossary is provided featuring many of the most commonly used terms.


Algae - non-vascular water plants. Analyses of types and abundance of algae provide indicators of aquatic ecosystem health.

Aquaclude - the opposite of an aquifer, these formations (often made of clay) do not allow for the movement of water.  They therefore can act as a barrier for the movement of water between surface and deeper aquifers.

Aquifer - an underground geological formation that allows for the movement of water; aquifers are the source of spring water and well water.

Area of contribution - those areas of the springshed landscape that accept rain and surface water inputs to the groundwater.  Certain areas often are much better at delivering the ground water than others.  Identifiable areas of high contribution should be protected.

Best Management Practices (BMPs) - a practice or combination of practices, including preventative actions or structural improvement, based on sound science and professional judgement to be the most effective and practicable on-site means of preventing negative water quality impacts at a spring.

Buffers - undisturbed vegetated zone between a land use and a spring.  These zones are meant as a protective barrier between the resources and harmful activities.

Dissolved oxygen (DO) - the oxygen freely available in water, which is vital to fish and other aquatic life.  DO levels are an important indicator of a water body’s ability to support desirable aquatic life.

Ecosystem - the interacting system of a biological community and its non-living environmental surroundings.

First magnitude spring - a spring with a flow rate of 100 cubic feet per (64.6 million gallons per day) or more.

Groundwater level - the measurement, in feet, of the elevation of the top of an aquifer.  The level can fluctuate in response to aquifer recharge and ground water withdrawals.

Habitat - the place where a population, whether human, animal, plant, or microorganism, lives, and its surroundings - both living and non-living.

Hydrogeology - the study of subsurface waters in their geologic context.

Hydroperiod - the pattern of water level rise and fall over time.

Impermeable - not permitting the passage of fluids.  In the case of geologic  formations, an impermeable layer of earth is one through which groundwater cannot pass.

Karst - A limestone region with underground drainage and many cavities and passages caused by the dissolution of the rock.

Loading - the amount of pollutants entering a system (concentration times flow rate).

Nitrate - a compound containing nitrogen that can exist in the atmosphere or as a dissolved gas in water.  Nitrates are essential plant nutrients, but in excess they can be dangerous to spring ecosystems.

Nonpoint source - pollution that does not result from a discharge at a specific, single location or point, but generally results from land runoff (i.e., from homes, parking lots, building sites, etc.), precipitation, atmospheric deposition, or percolation.  Pollution from nonpoint sources occurs when the rate at which pollutant materials entering water bodies or ground water exceeds natural levels.

Primary Zone - see springshed protection zone.

Point Source Pollution - pollutants that come from a concentrated originating point like a pipe from a factory or a large registered feedlot with a specific point of discharge.

Secondary Zone - see springshed protection zone.

Sinkhole - a hole in the earth that is formed when an underlying limestone collapses.

Springshed Protection Zone - a land planning area wherein special features such as environmentally-sensitive karst landscape and associated spring require differing or added type of management and protection.  A springshed protection zone for the comprehensive plan and corresponding future land use map could be:

Primary Zone - the primary zone encompasses land, inclusive of springshed features, that is most sensitive to environmental contamination and merits special protection.  This includes the principal areas of ground water contribution and recharge, sinkholes, depressions and stream-to-sink features, the areas around the spring itself, and the spring run.  These are areas deserving critical protection actions.  Compatible land use in this area includes very low density and intensity uses such as conservation, recreation, and open space; and

Secondary Zone - the secondary zone includes land abutting the primary zone that is also vulnerable to contamination, but offers some limited opportunity for buffering impacts from potential sources of contamination.  Compatible land uses include low density and intensity land uses such as conservation uses, recreation and open space, silviculture, rural pasture areas or very low density residential.

Spring recharge basin - the land areas that contribute surface and rainwater to the spring flow.  This may be used interchangeably with springshed or spring watershed, though in many instances, the recharge basis is focused more upon those areas within the springshed that collect and contribute significantly to the water budget.

Spring run - a spring-fed stream or river.

Springshed - an area of land where the water will eventually end up in a spring and spring run.  The shape of this recharge area, or springshed, is influenced not only by topography but also by what is happening unseen under the ground the presence of cave systems, fissures, and other karst features.

Stormwater - rainwater that flows overland after falling.  In developed areas, materials it picks up from roofs, streets, parking lots, and other impermeable surfaces, and may deliver pollutants to surface and ground water typically pollute stormwater.

Transmissivity - the rate at which ground water travels through a permeable geologic layer.

Treatment Train - a series of Best Management Practices and/or natural features, each planned to treat a different aspect of potential pollution, that are implemented in a linear fashion to maximize pollutant removal.

Watershed planning and management - water resource management that is organized on the basis of the natural boundaries formed by surface water basins or ground water divides, which often overlap the borders of governmental jurisdictions.

Withdrawal - see ground water withdrawal.

Xeriscape - a landscaping method that maximizes the co nservation of water by the use of site-appropriate plants and an efficient watering system.

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