Environmental Earth Sciences

, Volume 74, Issue 6, pp 4607–4623 | Cite as

Quantifying the variability in Escherichia coli (E. coli) throughout storm events at a karst spring in northwestern Arkansas, United States

  • Katherine J. KnierimEmail author
  • Phillip D. Hays
  • Darrell Bowman
Original Article


In northwestern Arkansas, karst aquifers have experienced degraded water quality due to impacts of land-use changes, such as increased urbanization or intensification of agriculture. Water quality at a karst spring was characterized by quantifying the variability of fecal-indicator bacteria, specifically Escherichia coli (E. coli), throughout base-flow periods and storm events. Water-quality change over time was assessed using an intermittent record of nitrate and chloride data since the 1990s. A Geographic Information System was used to quantify changes in land use over time and identify housing subdivisions using on-site septic systems. E. coli was significantly greater during storm events (649 CFU/100 mL or MP/100 mL) than base-flow periods (41 CFU/100 mL or MPN/100 mL). The increase in E. coli at the spring following storm events was interpreted to result from flushing of bacteria from the land surface, through the epikarst and karst conduits, and into groundwater. Nitrate and chloride have increased significantly since the 1990s, following the general pattern of increased urbanization in the recharge area. Septic-tank effluent may be degrading the water quality of the karst spring based on the dominance of on-site septic tank usage in the recharge area, unsuitable topography and soil type for septic tank absorption fields, increased nitrate and chloride concentrations concomitant with increased urbanization, and increase of the fecal-indicator bacteria E. coli following storm events.


Karst E. coli Geochemistry Hydrogeology Ozarks 



Funding for this research was provided by the Geological Society of America and the National Speleological Society. This manuscript was developed under STAR Fellowship Grant Number FP917347 awarded by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It has not been formally reviewed by the EPA. The views expressed in this manuscript are solely those of Katherine J. Knierim, and EPA does not endorse any products or commercial services mentioned in this manuscript. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government. The Arkansas Water Resources Center Water Quality Laboratory provided analytical support. Special thanks are given to the Bella Vista Property Owner’s Association for use of the research site and non-monetary support. Comments from three anonymous reviewers were appreciated and contributed to improvement of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katherine J. Knierim
    • 1
    Email author
  • Phillip D. Hays
    • 2
  • Darrell Bowman
    • 3
  1. 1.Environmental Dynamics ProgramUniversity of ArkansasFayettevilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of GeosciencesUniversity of ArkansasFayettevilleUSA
  3. 3.Lake Ecology and Fisheries ManagementBella Vista Village Property Owners AssociationBella VistaUSA

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