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Organic Matter

The types of organic matter in supplies are very diverse and may be present in suspension, or in colloidal or true solution. It is largely decaying vegetable matter but there are many other possible sources including run-off from fields and domestic and industrial wastes.

Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) is an indirect measure of biodegradable organic compounds in water, and is determined by measuring the dissolved oxygen decrease in a controlled water sample over a five-day period. During this five-day period, aerobic (oxygen-consuming) bacteria decompose organic matter in the sample and consume dissolved oxygen in proportion to the amount of organic material that is present.

Nutrients are chemical elements or compounds essential for plant and animal growth. Nutrient parameters include ammonia, organic nitrogen, Kjeldahl nitrogen, nitrate nitrogen (for water only) and total phosphorus. High amounts of nutrients have been associated with eutrophication, or overfertilization of a water body, while low levels of nutrients can reduce plant growth and (for example) starve higher level organisms that consume phytoplankton.

Most organic carbon in water occurs as partly degraded plant and animal materials, some of which are resistant to microbial degradation. Organic carbon is important in the estuarine food web and is incorporated into the ecosystem by photosynthesis of green plants, then consumed as carbohydrates and other organic compounds by higher animals. In another process, formerly living tissue containing carbon is decomposed as detritus by bacteria and other microbes.

Oil and Grease constitutes one of the most common parameters for quantifying organics from human sources and, to a lesser extent, biogenic sources (e.g., algae and fish). Some examples of oil and grease loadings are leaks from automobile crankcases, illegal dumping into storm sewers, motorboats, oil spills, and discharge from oil production platforms in the bay.