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Growing season surface water loading of fecal indicator organisms within a rural watershed

Sinclair, A., Hebb, D., Jamieson, R., Gordon, R., Benedict, K., Fuller, K., Stratton, G.W., Madani, A. (2009). Growing season surface water loading of fecal indicator organisms within a rural watershed, 43(5), 1199-1206.


The loading of microbial contaminants was examined within the Thomas Brook watershed, a 784 ha mixed land-use catchment located in the headwaters of the Cornwallis River drainage basin (Nova Scotia, Canada). The objectives were to: (i) examine spatial and temporal characteristics of fecal bacteria loading during the growing season from five subwatersheds, and (ii) develop areal fecal indicator organism export coefficients for rural landscapes. Fecal coliform, Escherichia coli, total suspended solids (TSS) concentrations and stream flow were monitored at five locations in the watershed over six consecutive growing seasons (May-Oct, 2001-2006). A nested watershed monitoring approach was used to determine bacterial loading from distinct source types (residential vs. agricultural) during both baseflow and stormflow periods. Areal bacterial loading rates increased in each nested watershed moving downstream through the watershed and were highest in the three subcatchments dominated by agricultural activities. Upper watershed bacterial loading throughout the growing season from an agricultural subcatchment (Growing Season Avg 8.92 × 1010 CFU ha-1) was consistently higher than a residential subcatchment (Growing Season Avg 8.43 × 109 CFU ha-1). As expected, annual average stormflow bacterial loads were higher than baseflow loads, however baseflow loads still comprised between 14 and 35% of the growing season bacterial loads in the five subwatersheds. Fecal bacteria loads were greater during years with higher annual precipitation. A positive linear relationship was observed between E. coli and TSS loading during the 2005 and 2006 growing seasons when both parameters were monitored, indicating that the processes of sediment transport and bacterial transport are linked. It is anticipated that computed areal microbial loading coefficients will be useful in developing watershed management plans. More intensive sampling during stormflow events is recommended for improving these coefficients. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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