Diverse land use activities can elevate risk of microbiological contamination entering stream headwaters. Spatially distributed water quality monitoring carried out across a 17km(2) agricultural catchment aimed to characterize microbiological contamination reaching surface water and investigate whether winter agricultural land use restrictions proved effective in addressing water quality degradation. Combined flow and concentration data revealed no significant difference in fecal indicator organism (FIO) fluxes in base flow samples collected during the open and prohibited periods for spreading organic fertilizer, while relative concentrations of Escherichia coli, fecal streptococci and sulfite reducing bacteria indicated consistently fresh fecal pollution reached aquatic receptors during both periods. Microbial source tracking, employing Bacteroides 16S rRNA gene markers, demonstrated a dominance of bovine fecal waste in river water samples upstream of a wastewater treatment plant discharge during open periods. This contrasted with responses during prohibited periods where human-derived signatures dominated. Differences in microbiological signature, when viewed with hydrological data, suggested that increasing groundwater levels restricted vertical infiltration of effluent from on-site wastewater treatment systems and diverted it to drains and surface water. Study results reflect seasonality of contaminant inputs, while suggesting winter land use restrictions can be effective in limiting impacts of agricultural wastes to base flow water quality.
Flynn, R. M., Deakin, J., Archbold, M., Cushnan, H., Kilroy, K., O'Flaherty, V., & Misstear, B. D. (2016). Using microbiological tracers to assess the impact of winter land use restrictions on the quality of stream headwaters in a small catchment. Science of the Total Environment, 541, 949-956. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.09.071