Characterizing relationships among fecal indicator bacteria, microbial source tracking markers, and associated waterborne pathogen occurrence in stream water and sediments in a mixed land use watershed
Bed sediments of streams and rivers may store high concentrations of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) and pathogens. Due to resuspension events, these contaminants can be mobilized into the water column and affect overall water quality. Other bacteria indicators such as microbial source tracking (MST) markers, developed to determine potential sources of fecal contamination, can also be resuspended from bed sediments. The primary objective of this study was to predict occurrence of waterborne pathogens in water and streambed sediments using a simple statistical model that includes traditionally measured FIB, environmental parameters and source allocation, using MST markers as predictor variables. Synoptic sampling events were conducted during baseflow conditions downstream from agricultural (AG), forested (FORS), and waste water pollution control plant (WPCP) land uses. Concentrations of FIB and MST markers were measured in water and sediments, along with occurrences of the enteric pathogens Campylobacter, Listeria and Salmonella, and the virulence gene that carries Shiga toxin, stx2. Pathogens were detected in water more often than in underlying sediments. Shiga toxin was significantly related to land use, with concentrations of the ruminant marker selected as an independent variable that could correctly classify 76% and 64% of observed Shiga toxin occurrences in water and sediment, respectively. FIB concentrations and water quality parameters were also selected as independent variables that correctly classified Shiga toxin occurrences in water and sediment (54%–87%), and Salmonella occurrences in water (96%). Relationships between pathogens and indicator variables were generally inconsistent and no single indicator adequately described occurrence of all pathogens. Because of inconsistent relationships between individual pathogens and FIB/MST markers, incorporating a combination of FIB, water quality measurements, and MST markers may be the best way to assess microbial water quality in mixed land use systems.