Alkalinity is a measure of the capacity of water to neutralize acids (see pH description). Alkaline compounds in the water such as bicarbonates (baking soda is one type), carbonates, and hydroxides remove H+ ions and lower the acidity of the water (which means increased pH). Total alkalinity is measured by measuring the amount of acid (e.g., sulfuric acid) needed to bring the sample to a pH of 4.2. At this pH all the alkaline compounds in the sample are "used up." The result is reported as milligrams per liter of calcium carbonate (mg/L CaCO3).
EPA Carbon/Alkalinity info