Assessing and monitoring agroenvironmental determinants of recreational freshwater quality using remote sensing

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Diverse fecal and nonfecal bacterial contamination and nutrient sources (e.g. agriculture, human activities and wildlife) represent a considerable non-point source load entering natural recreational waters which may adversely affect water quality. Monitoring of natural recreational water microbial quality is most often based mainly on testing a set of microbiological indicators. The cost and labour involved in testing numerous water samples may be significant when a large number of sites must be monitored repetitively over time. In addition to water testing, ongoing monitoring of key environmental factors known to influence microbial contamination may be carried out as an additional component. Monitoring of environmental factors can now be performed using remote sensing technology which represents an increasingly recognized source of rigorous and recurrent data, especially when monitoring over a large or difficult to access territory is needed. To determine whether this technology could be useful in the context of recreational water monitoring, we evaluated a set of agroenvironmental determinants associated with fecal contamination of recreational waters through a multivariable logistic regression model built with data extracted from satellite imagery. We found that variables describing the proportions of land with agricultural and impervious surfaces, as derived from remote sensing observations, were statistically associated (odds ratio, OR = 11 and 5.2, respectively) with a higher level of fecal coliforms in lake waters in the southwestern region of Quebec, Canada. From a technical perspective, remote sensing may provide important added-value in the monitoring of microbial risk from recreational waters and further applications of this technology should be investigated to support public health risk assessments and environmental monitoring programs relating to water quality.

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