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Self-Purification Capacity of Natural Waters

Water Quality Control

  1. Patrick K. Jjemba

Published Online: 14 OCT 2005

DOI: 10.1002/047147844X.wq651

Water Encyclopedia

Water Encyclopedia

How to Cite

Jjemba, P. K. 2005. Self-Purification Capacity of Natural Waters. Water Encyclopedia. .

Author Information

  1. University of Cincinnati, Biological Sciences Department, Cincinnati, Ohio

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 14 OCT 2005


A majority of the world's population is constantly challenged by a lack of proper sanitary conditions. In developing countries, poor sewage disposal infrastructure, displacement of populations by wars and famine, a lack of the knowledge about the hidden dangers posed by excreted wastes to human health, or a blatant adherence to cultural practices that de-emphasize the proper disposal of human excreta still prevail. On the other hand, it is common to find homesteads, villages, and small towns that are dependent on wells that are within the same vicinity of on-site pit latrines or their modification for their water supply. The resultant contamination to both groundwater and surface water in such settings directly affects many people worldwide. Groundwater contamination is also of interest for the developed and the newly industrialized countries as a sizeable proportion of the population in those countries use on-site septic tanks, some of which leak fecal material into the groundwater. To that effect, approximately 40% of the U.S. population uses groundwater for their domestic needs, whereas approximately 98% of the drinking water in Denmark is obtained from groundwater. Groundwater is not typically treated prior to domestic use; the consumers rely almost entirely on the water's ability to purify itself prior to reaching the point of consumption. Likewise, the fecal material can, if deposited on the surface, or in instances of flooding, become part of the runoff into waterways. Furthermore, in a number of places on the globe, rivers are the principle disposal pathways for waste materials making the interest in the processes that facilitate the self-purification process of natural water applicable to both groundwater and surface water.


  • self-purification;
  • groundwater;
  • contamination;
  • organic;
  • inorganic;
  • surface water