Author(s): Tiefenthaler LL, Stein ED, Lyon GS
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Abstract High levels of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) in surface waters is a common problem in urban areas that often leads to impairment of beneficial uses such as swimming. Once impaired, common management and regulatory solutions include development of total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) and other water quality management plans. A critical element of these plans is establishment of a "reference" level of exceedances against which to assess management goals and TMDL compliance. The goal of this study was to provide information on indicator bacteria contributions from natural streams in undeveloped catchments throughout southern California during dry weather, non-storm conditions. To help establish a regional reference data set, bacteria levels [i.e. Escherichia coli (E. coli), enterococci and total coliforms] were measured from 15 unimpaired streams in 11 southern California watersheds weekly for one full year. Concentrations measured from reference areas were typically between one to two orders of magnitude lower than levels found in developed watersheds. Nearly 82\% of the time, samples did not exceed daily and monthly bacterial indicator thresholds. E. coli had the lowest daily percent exceedance (1.5\%). A total of 13.7\% of enterococci exceeded daily thresholds. Indicator bacteria levels fluctuated seasonally with an average of 79\% of both enterococci and total coliforms exceedances occurring during summer months (June to August). Temperature, at all sites, explained about one-half the variation in total coliforms density suggesting that stream temperatures regulated bacterial populations. Accounting for natural background levels will allow for management targets that are more reflective of the contributions from natural sources.
This article was published in Environ Monit Assess
and referenced in Hydrology: Current Research