Assessing the microbial quality of a tropical watershed with an urbanization gradient using traditional and alternate fecal indicators

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

Urbanization affects the microbial loading into tropical streams, but its impact on water quality varies across watersheds. Rainfall in tropical environments also complicates microbial dynamics due to high seasonal and annual variations. Understanding the dynamics of fecal contamination in tropical surface waters may be further hindered by limitations from the utilization of traditional microbial indicators. We measured traditional (Enterococcus spp. and Escherichia coli), as well as alternate (enterophages and coliphages) indicators of fecal contamination in a tropical watershed in Puerto Rico during a 1-year period, and examined their relationship with rainfall events across an urbanization gradient. Enterococcus spp. and E. coli concentrations were 4 to 5 logs higher in non-urbanized or pristine sites when compared to enterophages and coliphages, suggesting that traditional fecal indicator bacteria may be natural inhabitants of pristine tropical waters. All of the tested indicators were positively correlated with rainfall and urbanization, except in the most urbanized sites, where rainfall may have had a dilution effect. The present study indicates that utilizing novel indicators of microbial water quality may improve the assessment of fecal contamination and pathogen risk for tropical watersheds.

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