Microbial source tracking in a small southern California urban watershed indicates wild animals and growth as the source of fecal bacteria
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Three independent microbial source tracking (MST) methods were applied to a small urban subwatershed in Orange County, California. Fifty-seven water samples collected over summer 2002 were analyzed for human adenovirus and enterovirus. Enterococci and E. coli were isolated for antibiotic resistance analysis (ARA) and for PCR identification of human- and animal-specific toxin genes, respectively. All water samples were PCR negative for human enteroviruses and E. coli human-specific toxin gene. E. coli toxin markers revealed the presence of toxin genes specific to bird, rabbit, and cow. Enterococci ARA results supported this conclusion and indicated that fecal bacteria from bird and wild animal feces as well as soil were the predominant source found in the watershed. An E. coli, isolated from the watershed and inoculated back into the heat-sterilized storm drain water, increased 4 log units within 6 days. Collectively, these results suggest that bird and wild animal feces, soil amendments, and/or fecal coliform growth in the storm drain are the major contributors to the fecal bacterial pollution in downstream areas. However, human adenoviruses were detected on two occasions. Fecal bacterial concentrations were not elevated on these two occasions, suggesting that the elevated levels of fecal indicator bacteria in this small watershed could be unrelated to the source of human adenovirus.