The spectral absorption coefficient at 254 nm as a real-time early warning proxy for detecting faecal pollution events at alpine karst water resources

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Because spring water quality from alpine karst aquifers can change very rapidly during event situations, water abstraction management has to be performed in near real-time. Four summer events (2005–2008) at alpine karst springs were investigated in detail in order to evaluate the spectral absorption coefficient at 254 nm (SAC254) as a real-time early warning proxy for faecal pollution. For the investigation Low-Earth-Orbit (LEO) Satellite-based data communication between portable hydrometeorological measuring stations and an automated microbiological sampling device was used. The method for event triggered microbial sampling and analyzing was already established and described in a previous paper. Data analysis including on-line event characterisation (i.e. precipitation, discharge, turbidity, SAC254) and comprehensive E. coli determination (n>800) indicated that SAC254 is a useful early warning proxy. Irrespective of the studied event situations SAC254 always increased 3 to 6 hours earlier than the onset of faecal pollution, featuring different correlation phases. Furthermore, it seems also possible to use SAC254 as a real-time proxy parameter for estimating the extent of faecal pollution after establishing specific spring and event-type calibrations that take into consideration the variability of the occurrence and the transferability of faecal material It should be highlighted that diffuse faecal pollution from wildlife and live stock sources was responsible for spring water contamination at the investigated catchments. In this respect, the SAC254 can also provide useful information to support microbial source tracking efforts where different situations of infiltration have to be investigated.

Keywords: diffuse faecal pollution, drinking water resources, early warning proxi parameter, microbial source tracking, satellite based automated event sampling, spectral absorption coefficient at 254 nm

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