Detection of Pathogenic and Non-pathogenic Bacteria in Drinking Water and Associated Biofilms on the Crow Reservation, Montana, USA


Private residences in rural areas with water systems that are not adequately regulated, monitored, and updated could have drinking water that poses a health risk. To investigate water quality on the Crow Reservation in Montana, water and biofilm samples were collected from 57 public buildings and private residences served by either treated municipal or individual groundwater well systems. Bacteriological quality was assessed including detection of fecal coliform bacteria and heterotrophic plate count (HPC) as well as three potentially pathogenic bacterial genera, Mycobacterium, Legionella, and Helicobacter. All three target genera were detected in drinking water systems on the Crow Reservation. Species detected included the opportunistic and frank pathogens Mycobacterium avium, Mycobacterium gordonae, Mycobacterium flavescens, Legionella pneumophila, and Helicobacter pylori. Additionally, there was an association between HPC bacteria and the presence of Mycobacterium and Legionella but not the presence of Helicobacter. This research has shown that groundwater and municipal drinking water systems on the Crow Reservation can harbor potential bacterial pathogens.

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The authors would like to thank the entire Crow Environmental Health Steering Committee for providing insight into research in reservation communities and community support for this work. Thanks to Crow community coordinators, Crescentia Cummins and Gail Whiteman, without their support, sample collection would not have been possible. Additional thanks to Al Parker for statistical support.

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health grants; P20MD002317 from the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities, and P20 RR-16455-04 from the National Institute for General Medical Science. Dr. Ford was supported in part by a grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Science to Achieve Results (US-EPA STAR) program and Crystal Richards and Margaret Eggers were supported by US-EPA STAR Fellowships. Although the research described in the article has been funded in part by the US Environmental Protection Agency’s STAR program through grant numbers RD833706, FP916936, and FP916744, it has not been subjected to any EPA or NIH review and, therefore, does not necessarily reflect the views of the Agencies, and no official endorsement should be inferred.

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Correspondence to Timothy E. Ford.

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Richards, C.L., Broadaway, S.C., Eggers, M.J. et al. Detection of Pathogenic and Non-pathogenic Bacteria in Drinking Water and Associated Biofilms on the Crow Reservation, Montana, USA. Microb Ecol 76, 52–63 (2018).

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  • Drinking water
  • Helicobacter pylori
  • Legionella
  • Mycobacterium