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« Jim Thebaut Receives Water Charity Humanitarian Award | Main | Nevada's Water Grab: KSL-TV Editorial; SNWA Seeks Delay »

Tuesday, 31 March 2009


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Robert Alvey

Saw your July 20 comment. That is a totally true Urban Legend that EPA HAD to continue to use the 2 word version in fear of "compromising" EPA Enforcement. When the 2 word term was used as the official title of a Superfund Site, it is correct to use the NAME, but new text and information should be the 1 word version. Anyone who read the USGS memo on transitioning understands that. I few years ago I had a good discussion with one of the EPA attorneys who was tasked to track and determine if "storm water" or "stormwater" is the correct legal term. Apparently some defense attorneys were using the discrepancy as a means of getting court cases thrown out so their discharges didn't count as violations. One other branch raised the "Cost" of converting as too high to justify changing. That was, I believe, the "ground water and surface water" section that didn't want to get new business cards printed.
Another reason I tend to drink a lot of beer rather than water.


Hi, Robert.

Thanks for your comment. The explanation I got a few years ago from an EPA employee was that in their regulations 'ground water' is written as two words and they were afraid that spelling it as one word could compromise the enforcement of the regs. I heard that from another EPA person as well. The folks I know at EPA would prefer the one word spelling.
Go figure....

Robert M. Alvey, P.G.

The controversy still rages! The EPA's Ground Water Forum just "shared" a 'new' update they came across in the AP Writing Style guidebook attesting that groundwater is the current preferred spelling. This organization voted against updating their name a few years ago. Some still won't accept changing as it looks silly to have groundwater and surface water in the same sentence.

Jonathan Higgins

I would have preferred that USGS lead the way on the correct spelling of ground water rather than cave to public pressure, apparently. So much for being technically correct...back to my work now LOL.


Hi, CJ.


Stan was an inveterate two-worder, and of course, a hyphenator.

Chris Brooks

I can remember this topic being very significant to Stan Davis at the U of A. It seems like he devoted an entire class period in his hydrogeology course to it. I just wish I could remember his preference clearly, but the only thing I really remember is him mentioning that in German, it was grundwasser - one word - in support of the groundwater spelling.


Hi, Daniel and DJWriter,

Thanks for your comments.

Daniel: Good points. Also "surface water" is not as common as "groundwater", because there are more specific terms for surface water: lake water, ocean water, stream water, sea water, etc.

DJWriter: as far as I can tell, the USGS uses "freshwater" as one word, whether it's a noun or adjective. I googled some USGS pubs.


"Groundwater" doesn't bother me, but I hate the use of "freshwater" as a noun -- it just doesn't look right (it's fine as an adjective). Does the USGS have a position on that one?

Wouldn't it be problematic for NGWA to change to "groundwater"? It kind of ruins the acronym unless they become NGA.

Daniel Collins

Even if this were an a priori April Fools...

I have two suspicions why 'surface water' is two words: 1- 'surface' had two syllables; 2- it's more in common usage. Freshwater, saltwater, groundwater, ... the prefix is monosyllabic. Two syllables makes it more awkward.

My bias is to use 'surface water' and 'groundwater', but I try to avoid them being close to one another. E.g., 'surface-aquifer interactions', rather than 'surface-groundwater interactions'.

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