Transport of enterococci and F+ coliphage through the saturated zone of the beach aquifer

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

Coastal groundwater has been implicated as a source of microbial pollution to recreational beaches. However, there is little work investigating the transport of fecal microbes through beach aquifers where waters of variable salinity are present. In this study, the potential for fecal indicator organisms enterococci (ENT) and F+ coliphage to be transported through marine beach aquifers was investigated. Native sediment and groundwaters were collected from the fresh and saline sections of the subterranean estuary at three beaches along the California coast where coastal communities utilize septic systems for wastewater treatment. Groundwaters were seeded with sewage and removal of F+ coliphage and ENT by the sediments during saturated flow was tested in laboratory column experiments. Removal varied significantly between beach and organism. F+ coliphage was removed to a greater extent than ENT, and removal was greater in saline sediments and groundwater than fresh. At one of the three beaches, a field experiment was conducted to investigate the attenuation of F+ coliphage and ENT down gradient of a septic leach field. ENT were detected up to 24 m from the leach field. The column study and field observations together suggest ENT can be mobile within native aquifer sediments and groundwater under certain conditions.

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