Spatial variation of waterborne Escherichia coli – implications for routine water quality monitoring

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Escherichia coli are often used as faecal indicator bacteria (FIB) to provide a measure of microbial pollution in recreational and shellfish harvesting waters. However, although model forecasts for predicting the concentrations of FIB in surface waters are becoming more robust, they suffer from an inconsistency in quantification methods and an understanding of the spatial variation of FIB within a water course. The aim of this study was to investigate the transverse spatial variation in E. coli numbers (as an indicator of faecal pollution) across the estuary of the River Conwy, UK. Water samples were collected from four transverse transects across the estuary. Spatial variation of E. coli was significantly different from one side of the river to the other, although was not correlated with depth or the physiochemical properties of the water. Subsequently, microbial water quality classifications on the two opposite banks suggested very different levels of pollution coming down the river. This work has shown that the side of the river that routine water monitoring samples are taken from can make a significant difference to the classification of microbial water quality. This has important implications for sampling strategies and the use of microbial source tracking (MST) techniques.

Keywords: faecal coliforms, faecal indicator bacteria (FIB), microbial pollution, quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA), water framework directive

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