Skip to main content
Log in

Water Quality Indices as Tools for Decision Making and Management

  • Published:
Water Resources Management Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

Water Quality Indices (WQIs) are composite indicators of water quality that pool together otherwise complex water quality data into an aggregate value that can be quickly and easily communicated to its intended audience. These indices have been used to provide comparisons of water quality status for different locations and at different times, which is helpful in prioritizing management efforts and funds. These WQIs can also be used as tools to predict potentially harmful conditions. They are also potentially valuable in assessing and communicating overall impacts of existing, planned, or proposed water quality interventions and management decisions. This manuscript presents a primarily literature-based look at WQI potentials with regard to their use as tools for decision making and management. Illustrations using monitoring data are also presented to provide additional information and comparisons to literature-based determinations. Of the existing WQIs, objective index formulations offer more flexible options for application allowing incorporation of varying determinant sets to capture location-specific conditions and changing water quality concerns. Incorporation of expert opinion at some level is important for the acceptability of WQIs as tools in water resources management. The use of the indices on a continuous basis provides long-term data which is helpful for decision making and management.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5

Similar content being viewed by others

References

  • Abbasi T, Abbasi SA (2012) Water quality indices. Elsevier

  • Abrahao R, Carvalho M, da Silva W, Machado T, Gadelha C, Hernandez M (2007) Use of index analysis to evaluate the water quality of a stream receiving industrial effluents. Water SA 33:459–465

    Google Scholar 

  • Akkoyunlu A, Akiner ME (2012) Pollution evaluation in streams using water quality indices: a case study from Turkey’s Sapanca lake Basin. Ecol Indic 18:501–511

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Alexakis D, Tsihrintzis VA, Tsakiris G, Gikas G (2016) Suitability of water quality indices for application in lakes in the Mediterranean. Water Resour Manage 30:1621–1633. doi:10.1007/s11269-016-1240-y

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Armour CL (1993) Evaluating temperature regimes for protection of smallmouth bass. DTIC Document

  • Asadollahfardi G (2015) Water quality indices (WQI). In: Asadollahfardi G (ed) Water quality management: assessment and interpretation. Springer, Heidelberg, pp 21–39

    Google Scholar 

  • Bilotta G, Brazier R (2008) Understanding the influence of suspended solids on water quality and aquatic biota. Water Res 42:2849–2861

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bonanno G, Giudice RL (2010) Application of two quality indices as monitoring and management tools of rivers. Case study: the Imera Meridionale River, Italy. Environ Manage 45:856–867

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bordalo AA, Savva-Bordalo J (2007) The quest for safe drinking water: an example from Guinea-Bissau (West Africa). Water Res 41:2978–2986

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Boyacioglu H (2010) Utilization of the water quality index method as a classification tool. Environ Monit Assess 167:115–124

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Boyacioglu H, Gundogdu V (2013) Efficiency of water quality index approach as an evaluation tool. Ecol Chem Eng S 20:247–255. doi:10.2478/eces-2013-0017

    Google Scholar 

  • Breitburg DL, Loher T, Pacey CA, Gerstein A (1997) Varying effects of low dissolved oxygen on trophic interactions in an estuarine food web. Ecol Monogr 67:489–507

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Breitburg DL, Hondorp DW, Davias LA, Diaz RJ (2009) Hypoxia, nitrogen, and fisheries: integrating effects across local and global landscapes. Annual Rev Marine Sci 1:329–349

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brown RM, McClelland NI, Deininger RA, Tozer RG (1970) A water quality index- do we dare? Water Sewage Works 11:339–343

    Google Scholar 

  • Brown RM, McClelland NI, Deininger RA, O’Connor MF (1972) A water quality index—crashing the psychological barrier. In: Thomas WA (ed) Indicators of environmental quality. Plenum Press, New York, pp 173–182

    Google Scholar 

  • CCME (2001) CCME water quality index 1.0 technical report. Available at: http://www.ccme.ca/files/Resources/calculators/WQI%20Technical%20Report%20%28en%29.pdf. Last accessed 12/22/2015. Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, Canada

  • Chaturvedi M, Bassin J (2010) Assessing the water quality index of water treatment plant and bore wells, in Delhi, India. Environ Monit Assess 163:449–453

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chen Z, Zhu Z, Yin L, Wei S, Deng L (2015) The changing water quality characteristics from urban drinking water sources in Guangdong, China. Water Resour Manage 29:987–1002. doi:10.1007/s11269-014-0855-0

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Coulter D, Sepúlveda M, Troy C, Höök T (2014) Thermal habitat quality of aquatic organisms near power plant discharges: potential exacerbating effects of climate warming. Fisheries Manag Ecol 21:196–210

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cude C (2001) Oregon water quality index: a tool for evaluating water quality management effectiveness. J Am Water Resour As 37:125–137. doi:10.1111/j.1752-1688.2001.tb05480.x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cyphert FR, Gant WL (1971) The Delphi technique: a case study. Phi Delta Kappan 52:272–273

    Google Scholar 

  • Dalkey NC, Brown BB, Cochran S (1969) The Delphi method: an experimental study of group opinion vol 3. Rand Corporation, Santa Monica

    Google Scholar 

  • De Rosemond S, Duro DC, Dubé M (2009) Comparative analysis of regional water quality in Canada using the water quality index. Environ Monit Assess 156:223–240

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dien LD, Lan MT, Hung ND (2014) The changes of water quality in space and time in the Mekong River, Bassac River and adjacent waterways. J Life Sci 8:481–488

    Google Scholar 

  • Dojlido J, Raniszewski J, Woyciechowska J (1994) Water-quality index applied to rivers in the Vistula river basin in Poland. Environ Monit Assess 33:33–42. doi:10.1007/BF00546659

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dunnette D (1979) Geographically variable water-quality index used in Oregon. J Water Pollut Con F 51:53–61

    Google Scholar 

  • Egborge AB, Benka-Coker J (1986) Water quality index: application in the Warri River, Nigeria. Environ Pollut B 12:27–40

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ferreira N, Bonetti C, Seiffert W (2011) Hydrological and water quality indices as management tools in marine shrimp culture. Aquaculture 318:425–433. doi:10.1016/j.aquaculture.2011.05.045

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Flint RW (2006) Water resource sustainable management: thinking like a watershed. Ann Arid Zone 45:399

    Google Scholar 

  • Fulazzaky M (2009) Water quality evaluation system to assess the Brantas River water. Water Resour Manage 23:3019–3033. doi:10.1007/s11269-009-9421-6

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Giordani G, Zaldivar J, Viaroli P (2009) Simple tools for assessing water quality and trophic status in transitional water ecosystems. Ecol Indic 9:982–991. doi:10.1016/j.ecolind.2008.11.007

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Goldin J (2013) From vagueness to precision: raising the volume on social issues for the water sector. Water Policy 15:309

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gupta A, Gupta S, Patil R (2003) A comparison of water quality indices for coastal water. J Environ Sci Heal A 38:2711–2725. doi:10.1081/ESE-120024458

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Horton RK (1965) An index number system for rating water quality. J Water Pollut Con F 37:300–306

    Google Scholar 

  • Hou W et al (2016) Assessing water quality of five typical reservoirs in lower reaches of Yellow River, China: using a water quality index method. Ecol Indic 61:309–316. doi:10.1016/j.ecolind.2015.09.030

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • House M, Ellis J (1987) The development of water-quality indexes for operational management. Water Sci Technol 19:145–154

    Google Scholar 

  • Hsu C-C, Sandford BA (2007) The Delphi technique: making sense of consensus. Pract Assessment, Res Evaluation 12:1–8

    Google Scholar 

  • Hubler S, Merrick L (2012) Oregon water quality index summary report: water years 2001–2010. Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Hillsboro

    Google Scholar 

  • Hurley T, Sadiq R, Mazumder A (2012) Adaptation and evaluation of the Canadian council of ministers of the environment water quality index (CCME WQI) for use as an effective tool to characterize drinking source water quality. Water Res 46:3544–3552. doi:10.1016/j.watres.2012.03.061

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kannel P, Lee S, Lee Y, Kanel S, Khan S (2007) Application of water quality indices and dissolved oxygen as indicators for river water classification and urban impact assessment. Environ Monit Assess 132:93–110. doi:10.1007/s10661-006-9505-1

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Karr JR (1993) Defining and assessing ecological integrity: beyond water quality. Environ Toxicol Chem 12:1521–1531

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kemp P, Sear D, Collins A, Naden P, Jones I (2011) The impacts of fine sediment on riverine fish. Hydrol Process 25:1800–1821

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Khan A, Paterson R, Khan H (2004) Modification and application of the Canadian council of ministers of the environment water quality index (CCME WQI) for the communication of drinking water quality data in Newfoundland and Labrador. Water Qual Res J Can 39:285–293

    Google Scholar 

  • Landwehr JM, Deininger R (1976) A comparison of several water quality indexes. J Water Pollut Con F 49:954–958

    Google Scholar 

  • Lapong E, Fujihara M, Izumi T, Hamagami K, Kobayashi N, Kakihara T (2012) Water quality characterization and index optimization: the case of agricultural rivers in Southern Ehime, Japan. J Rainwater Catchment Syst 18:1–8

    Google Scholar 

  • Lumb A, Sharma T, Bibeault J (2011a) A review of genesis and evolution of water quality index (WQI) and some future directions. Water Qual Expo Health 3:11–24. doi:10.1007/s12403-011-0040-0

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lumb A, Sharma T, Bibeault J, Klawunn P (2011b) A comparative study of USA and Canadian water quality index models. Water Qual Expo Health 3:203–216. doi:10.1007/s12403-011-0056-5

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McClelland NI (1974) Water quality index application in the Kansas River Basin. US Environmental Protection Agency, Kansas City

    Google Scholar 

  • Merrick L, Hubler S (2013) Oregon water quality index summary report: water years 2002–2011 and 2003–2012. Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Hillsboro

    Google Scholar 

  • Mrazik S (2004) Water quality report: ambient monitoring stations in the Oregon coast Coho evolutionarily significant unit. Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Portland

    Google Scholar 

  • Mrazik S (2007) Oregon water quality index summary report: water years 1997–2006. Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Portland

    Google Scholar 

  • Mrazik S (2008) Oregon water quality index summary report: water years 1998–2007. Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Portland

    Google Scholar 

  • Nikoo MR, Mahjouri N (2013) Water quality zoning using probabilistic support vector machines and self-organizing maps. Water Resour Manage 27:2577–2594. doi:10.1007/s11269-013-0304-5

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Norman ES, Dunn G, Bakker K, Allen DM, de Albuquerque RC (2012) Water security assessment: integrating governance and freshwater indicators. Water Resour Manage 27:535–551. doi:10.1007/s11269-012-0200-4

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • ODEQ (2013) South coast Basin water quality status and action plan. Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Portland

    Google Scholar 

  • ODEQ (2015) Oregon water quality index summary report: water years 2005–2014 (Oct. 1, 2005 through Sept. 30, 2014). Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Hillsboro

    Google Scholar 

  • Parparov A, Hambright KD, Berman T (2014) Water quality assessment. In: Zohary T, Sukenik A, Berman T, Nishri A (eds) Lake Kinneret – ecology and management. Springer, Dordrecht

    Google Scholar 

  • Pesce S, Wunderlin D (2000) Use of water quality indices to verify the impact of Cordoba City (Argentina) on Suquia River. Water Res 34:2915–2926. doi:10.1016/S0043-1354(00)00036-1

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Poonam T, Tanushree B, Sukalyan C (2013) Water quality indices—important tools for water quality assessment: a review. Int J Advances Chem 1:15–28

    Google Scholar 

  • Sackman H (1974) Delphi assessment: expert opinion, forecasting, and group process. DTIC document. Rand Corporation, Santa Monica

    Google Scholar 

  • Said A, Stevens DK, Sehlke G (2004) An innovative index for evaluating water quality in streams. Environ Manage 34:406–414

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Samantray P, Mishra BK, Panda CR, Rout SP (2009) Assessment of water quality index in mahanadi and atharabanki rivers and Taldanda Canal in Paradip Area, India. J Hum Ecol 26:153–161

    Google Scholar 

  • Sanchez E, Colmenarejo M, Vicente J, Rubio A, Garcia M, Travieso L, Borja R (2007) Use of the water quality index and dissolved oxygen deficit as simple indicators of watersheds pollution. Ecol Indic 7:315–328. doi:10.1016/j.ecolind.2006.02.005

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sedeño-Díaz JE, López-López E (2007) Water quality in the Río Lerma, Mexico: an overview of the last quarter of the twentieth century. Water Resour Manage 21:1797–1812

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Singh SK, Singh P, Gautam SK (2016) Appraisal of urban lake water quality through numerical index, multivariate statistics and earth observation data sets. Int J Environ Sci Technol 13:445–456. doi:10.1007/s13762-015-0850-x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Smith D (1990) A better water-quality indexing system for rivers and streams. Water Res 24:1237–1244. doi:10.1016/0043-1354(90)90047-A

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stambuk-Giljanovic N (1999) Water quality evaluation by index in Dalmatia. Water Res 33:3423–3440. doi:10.1016/S0043-1354(99)00063-9

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Swamee P, Tyagi A (2000) Describing water quality with aggregate index. J Environ Eng-ASCE 126:451–455. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)0733-9372(2000)126:5(451)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Swamee PK, Tyagi A (2007) Improved method for aggregation of water quality subindices. J Environ Eng-ASCE 133:220–225

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Terrado M, Borrell E, de Campos S, Barcelo D, Tauler R (2010) Surface-water-quality indices for the analysis of data generated by automated sampling networks. Trac-Trend Anal Chem 29:40–52. doi:10.1016/j.trac.2009.10.001

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ujjania N, Dubey M (2015) Water quality index of estuarine environment. Curr Sci 108:1430–1433

    Google Scholar 

  • USEPA (2002) Estimation of national economic benefits using the national water pollution control assessment model to evaluate regulatory options for concentrated animal feeding operations. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington

    Google Scholar 

  • USEPA (2010) Economic analysis of final water quality standards for nutrients for Lakes and flowing waters in Florida. Available at: http://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-07/documents/florida-economic-anaylis-report.pdf. Last accessed 12/22/2015. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water, Office of Science and Technology, Washington, DC

  • USEPA-CCR (2015) Consumer confidence reports- appendix A to subpart O - Regulated contaminants. Available at: http://www.epa.gov/ccr/appendix-subpart-o-regulated-contaminants. Last accessd December 2015

  • Vijayakumar N, Gurugnanam B, Nirmaladevi C, Panchamin K (2015) CCME based water qulaity index assessment of Upper Thirumanimuttar sub basin Cauvery River South India. Int J Scientific Res Dev 3:10–13

    Google Scholar 

  • Walsh PJ, Wheeler WJ (2012) Water quality index aggregation and cost benefit analysis. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Center for Environmental Economics, Washington

    Google Scholar 

  • Walsh PJ, Wheeler WJ (2013) Water quality indices and benefit-cost analysis. J Benefit-Cost Analysis 4:81–105

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Whittaker G, Barnhart B, Färe R, Grosskopf S (2015) Application of index number theory to the construction of a water quality index: aggregated nutrient loadings related to the areal extent of hypoxia in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Ecol Indic 49:162–168

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wills M, Irvine KN (1996) Application of the national sanitation foundation water quality index in Cazenovia Creek, NY, pilot watershed management project. Middle States Geographer 1996:95–104

    Google Scholar 

  • Witkin BR, Altschuld JW (1995) Planning and conducting needs assessments: a practical guide. Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks

    Google Scholar 

  • Yidana SM, Yidana A (2010) Assessing water quality using water quality index and multivariate analysis. Environ Earth Sci 59(7):1461–1473

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zhao P, Tang XY, Tang JL, Wang C (2013) Assessing water quality of three gorges reservoir, China, over a five-year period from 2006 to 2011. Water Resour Manage 27:4545–4558. doi:10.1007/s11269-013-0425-x

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

The authors are grateful for the support provided by Purdue University’s Center for the Environment.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Margaret W. Gitau.

Appendix

Appendix

Table 7 (Table 7)

Table 7 Other Key Indices

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Gitau, M.W., Chen, J. & Ma, Z. Water Quality Indices as Tools for Decision Making and Management. Water Resour Manage 30, 2591–2610 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11269-016-1311-0

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11269-016-1311-0

Keywords

Navigation