The Grammarphobia Blog

Environmental standards

Q: I work in the environmental arena where we frequently clean up ground water or groundwater? I’ve seen it both ways in the same document. Even the EPA can’t make up its mind! So is it “ground water” or “groundwater,” “storm water” or “stormwater,” “rain water” or “rainwater,” “waste water” or “wastewater,” “rinse water” or “rinsewater”? (My spell-check choked on that last one!)

A: The one-word versions are acceptable for “groundwater,” “rainwater,” and “wastewater,” but the two-word versions are generally used for “storm water” and “rinse water.”

This is according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) and The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.).

However, we’ve found that “stormwater” is often written as one word in land-use documents and publications.

We know this because of our volunteer work. Pat is a member of our New England town’s Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission, and Stewart serves on the Zoning Commission (he’s also the assistant wetlands enforcement officer).

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