James M. Symons

The Water Dictionary

In March 2000, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) in Denver, Colorado published a 516-page book, THE DRINKING WATER DICTIONARY.  This 8-1/2" by 11" illustrated, hardback reference contained about 12,000 entries from "A-See ampere" to "zwitterion," incuding many common acronyms and abbreviations.

   Definitions related to  41 different water-supply topics ranging from "analytic instrumentation" through "health effects" to "water rights" (complete list below) were provided by a panel of 23 professional experts.  The scope and expert list was expanded for the second edition, (now about 15,000 entries), hence the new title.                                                            

analytic instrumentation  instrumentation
analytical methods      legislation
chemistry          management
computer automation membrane technology
computers microbiology
corrosion modeling
corrosion control monitoring
data handling   protozoology
desalting  rates
disinfection by-products regulations
distribution systems risk assessment
emergency preparedness  safety
engineering small systems
epidemiology statistics
finance toxicology
fluid mechanics treatment
geographic information systems virology
geology water resources
groundwater water reuse
health effects water rights


The book also included all of the drinking water terms from the 1981 "Glossary - Water and Wastewater Control Engineering," updated and improved as necessary.  In addition it contains an extensive list of "Units of Measure" entries, covering both US custamary and SI units, as well as a "Table of Conversion Factors," mostly from US customary to SI units.  Started in late-1993, the dictionary is current as of mid-summer, 1998. This edition is now out of print but a second edition was published by AWWA in November 2009.


The Water Dictionary, here in its second edition, was written in response to a need identified by leading water sector professionals almost 20 years ago.

AWWA management approved an ambitious project to be led by Dr. James M. Symons of the University of Houston to develop a compendium of terms as they are used in the water field.  As with most successful AWWA publications, the project included the recruitment and participation of many volunteers.  A Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) of 22 people was put together made up of various professionals representing many facets of the water community.  Two TAC members, Lee C. Bradley Jr. and Theodore C. Cleveland, also agreed to be associate editors.

With the TAC formed, work began in earnest on the first edition in early 1994.  AWWA’s 1981 edition of the Glossary; Water and Wastewater Control Engineering was used as a starting point.  The glossary was reviewed, and terms not directly related to drinking water were deleted.  Outdated definitions were updated, and arcane definitions were simplified.

Next, new entries were added from terms suggested by the TAC members, from glossaries in references provided by AWWA, and from terminology encountered in technical articles and at professional conferences and meetings.  Finally, in mid-1998, new entries were added to reflect the latest terminology.  Dr. Symons and the associate editors reviewed and edited the entries and definitions, working to ensure that consistency and accuracy were maintained in all entries.  Units of measure — in both US customary and Système International (Sl) units — were gathered in a single list for ready reference.  The development team also incorporated words and definitions from the Water Quality Association’s WQA Glossary of Terms to standardize some of the commonly used terms.  Joseph F. Harrison and the WQA graciously permitted AWWA to reprint that material in the first edition and in all future editions.

Work on the second edition of The Water Dictionary began almost as soon as the first edition, The Drinking Water Dictionary, was published in 2000.  The water field is constantly changing, with new technologies, new regulations, and new science applications being used nearly every day new words and terminologies are continually being added to the lexicon of` water, even as this edition goes to print.  Early in the process of creating this second edition, Dr. Symons, primary editor and supervisor of the first edition, together with developmental editor Maripat Murphy, spent many hours gathering and vetting new material with a crew of steadfast volunteers.  Dr. Symons recalls:  “My way of generating new words was to review all of the journal articles and the technical conference programs since the publication of the first edition, looking for words that were not in the first edition. I broke these lists up into categories and sent them to a new Technical Advisory Committee 1 had recruited for definitions.  This time the words were not self-generated, but assigned to the TAC members by me."

Dr. Symons retired from the project, and I was asked to take on his role of senior technical editor.   Together with a team of many talented professionals working countlesshours — in particular, AWWA Publications Manager Gay Porter De Nileon, AWWA Technical Editor Martha Ripley Gray, and key AWWA contractors, including Project Manager Deborah Lynes of D&D Editorial Services — I have had the pleasure of seeing the second edition of this seminal work through to completion.

Those of us active in the water field know that our profession encompasses aspects of a variety of disciplines.  Although this diverse knowledge base helps us do our job. it also means that the terms we use come from many sources.  Sorting out which of these terms to include and which to omit from the dictionary was a painstaking process.  For every new entry added, an original yet accurate definition had to be developed, vetted. and edited.  As for deleting entries or determining what not to include from the hundreds of suggestions, a decision had to be made as to what this book is and what it couldn’t be:  it isn’t a math or calculations book, it isn’t a computer technology book, and it isn’t an engineering design book.  It’s more of a glossary than a dictionary in that we have not included the etymology, pronunciation, or grammatical information about the words.  We have focused on providing the useful scientific information needed by water professionals.

As was the case in the development of the first edition, volunteers played a vital role in helping complete the task of reviewing the material from the first edition and from the subsequent submissions. A careful reading of the material was required to be certain that regulatory and technological changes were accurately reflected.  In addition to the TAC  assembled for this project by Dr. Symons, I relied heavily on my friends and colleagues to review terms and definitions.  I gratefully acknowledge the help and patience of David A. Cornwell of EE&T; Stuart W. Krasner, Metropolitan Water District of Southem Califomia; Mark LeChevallier, American Water; Paal Engebrigsten, EE&T; and James Day, EE&T.

The Water Dictionary is a unique reference book, pulling together information from numerous sources, covering the many broad areas that make up the water field.  As a book of words and phrases defined in terms of their relevance and usefulness to the professional community, The Water Dictionary presents the common language of water.

—Nancy E. McTigue
November 2009

If a dictionary of this breadth of coverage would be useful to you, to your organization's library, or to both, it can be ordered from AWWA. 


Back To Symons Home Page