Water Words

These fast explanations of water lingo by Hannah Leigh Myers are a regular feature of the Water Buffs podcast.


We explain the somewhat arcane measurement that is used widely in U.S. water circles.

Podcast: Data vis for water journalism

‘Aquatic nuisance species’

The EPA defines aquatic nuisance species (ANS) as organisms that disrupt the ecological stability of infested waters.

Podcast: Water and climate change in New Mexico

‘Demand hardening’

According to the Alliance for Water Efficiency, demand hardening happens when “prior conservation makes future demand reductions harder to achieve.”

Podcast: Water managers cope with climate change

‘Gray water’

The EPA defines gray water as “any washwater that has been used in a home or business, except water from toilets.”

Podcast: Restoration, infrastructure and the economic value of rivers

‘Hard water’

Hard water can be harmful to piping and household appliances but can be beneficial to ecosystems.

Podcast: Water flux and toxic wells


The term “headwaters” refers to the area where a stream or river begins.

Podcast: Using drone and aerial imagery

‘Potable water‘

Potable water is water that is safe to drink.

Podcast: Water and colonialism in New Mexico

‘Prior appropriation’

A legal water rights system that means those who have used the water longer have more rights to the water than newcomers.

Podcast: Solving water insecurity on the Navajo Nation

‘Return flow’

The U.S. Geological Survey defines return flow as “drainage water from irrigated farmlands that re-enters the water system to be used further downstream.”

Podcast: Studying the snowpack in a changing climate

‘Riparian rights’

Riparian rights give the owners of land touching a water source the right to use water from it.

Podcast: Paddling the Green River to report on Western water issues

‘Transmountain diversion’

Transmountain diversions—sometimes called transbasin diversions— divert water by drawing it from one stream or river into the watershed of another.

Podcast: Water, money, and power in Colorado

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