Rainfall can lower pH in streams
pH is a measure of the acidic or basic (alkaline) nature of a solution. The concentration of the hydrogen ion [H+] activity in a solution determines the pH. Mathematically this is expressed as:
pH = - log [H+]
The pH value is the negative power to which 10 must be raised to equal the hydrogen ion concentration.
A pH range of 6.0 to 9.0 appears to provide protection for the life of freshwater fish and bottom dwelling invertebrates
The table below gives some special effects of pH on fish and aquatic life.
Minimum Maximum Effects 3.8 10.0 Fish eggs could be hatched, but deformed young are often produced 4.0 10.1 Limits for the most resistant fish species 4.1 9.5 Range tolerated by trout --- 4.3 Carp die in five days 4.5 9.0 Trout eggs and larvae develop normally 4.6 9.5 Limits for perch --- 5.0 Limits for stickleback fish 5.0 9.0 Tolerable range for most fish --- 8.7 Upper limit for good fishing waters 5.4 11.4 Fish avoid waters beyond these limits 6.0 7.2 Optimum (best) range for fish eggs --- 1.0 Mosquito larvae are destroyed at this pH value 3.3 4.7 Mosquito larvae live within this range 7.5 8.4 Best range for the growth of algae
The most significant environmental impact of pH involves synergistic effects. Synergy involves the combination of two or more substances which produce effects greater than their sum.
This process is important in surface waters. Runoff from agricultural, domestic, and industrial areas may contain iron, aluminum, ammonia, mercury or other elements. The pH of the water will determine the toxic effects, if any, of these substances. For example, 4 mg/l of iron would not present a toxic effect at a pH of 4.8. However, as little as 0.9 mg/l of iron at a pH of 5.5 can cause fish to die.
Synergy has special significance when considering water and wastewater treatment. The steps involved in water and wastewater treatment require specific pH levels. In order for coagulation (a treatment process) to occur, pH and alkalinity must fall within a limited range. Chlorination, a disinfecting process for drinking water, requires a pH range that is temperature dependent.