Skip to main content

Should there be an Aquatic Life Water Quality Criterion for Conductivity?

Buy Article:

$17.50 plus tax (Refund Policy)

Or sign up for a free trial


There are a number of state and federal agencies calling for development of aquatic life criteriaor thresholds for conductivity, including a field data-derived benchmark of 300 μS/cm that wasrecently proposed for central Appalachian streams chemically dominated by sulfate andbicarbonate salts. Such directives are based on observed correlations between conductivity andbenthic macroinvertebrate community composition. However, development of a true aquatic lifecriterion for a composite variable like conductivity is made difficult by a number of factors. Forexample, consistent stressor-response data are typically required to derive regulatory thresholdsusing species sensitivity distributions – i.e., organisms should have a consistent response to atoxicant, only differing in sensitivity. In addition, other states have evaluated this issue anddetermined that a composite variable, like conductivity or TDS, is not appropriate for criteriadevelopment, as toxicity varies strongly as a function of specific ion composition and ispotentially mitigated by elevated hardness. Finally, our independent statistical analyses of theWest Virginia Watershed Assessment Branch Database (WABbase) used to create thisbenchmark indicate there is a real possibility that observed patterns of invertebrate communitycomposition versus conductivity may, in fact, be related to a combination of abiotic (ioniccomposition, habitat, temperature, flow, channel form, etc) and biotic (competition, predation,life history patterns) factors – potentially adding an insurmountable level of confounding. Weconclude that the relationships between conductivity and changes in benthic macroinvertebratecommunity composition are neither strong, consistent, nor reliable enough to warrant derivationof a criterion at this time.

Keywords: Benchmark; Benthic Macroinvertebrates; Conductivity; West Virginia; species-sensitivity distributions

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2011

More about this publication?
  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

    WEF Members: Sign in (right panel) with your IngentaConnect user name and password to receive complimentary access.
  • Subscribe to this Title
  • Membership Information
  • About WEF Proceedings
  • WEFTEC Conference Information
  • ingentaconnect is not responsible for the content or availability of external websites

Access Key

Free Content
Free content
New Content
New content
Open Access Content
Open access content
Subscribed Content
Subscribed content
Free Trial Content
Free trial content
Cookie Policy
Cookie Policy
ingentaconnect website makes use of cookies so as to keep track of data that you have filled in. I am Happy with this Find out more