Use of Escherichia coli for Microbial Source Tracking in a Mixed Use Watershed in Northern Virginia
Wade, Timothy Rion
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Prince William County, located in the rapidly developing Northern Virginia region, contains watersheds of mixed rural and urban/suburban uses. The project goal was to monitor and evaluate 21 stream locations, over 13 months, in the Occoquan Basin identified as impaired due to high E. coli densities. One site on each of eight streams, two sites on each of five streams, and three sites on the remaining stream were chosen for E. coli monitoring and microbial source tracking (MST). MST was performed using antibiotic resistance analysis (ARA) and fluorometric analysis. Escherichia coli was chosen as the indicator bacterium for purposes of comparison with previous project data and because a large body of evidence supports its use in freshwater systems. This study involved the only known MST project to incorporate data from five or more consecutive years. A total of 2854 environmental isolates were collected for analysis with ARA. These isolates were classified using a known source library (KSL) that consisted of 1003 unique resistance patterns. The resistance patterns of the KSL came from known fecal sources (human, pets, livestock, wildlife) in Prince William County. The KSL included isolates from previous years but was also updated with fresh isolates. The accuracy of the KSL was assessed through the use of a challenge set. The challenge set was classified against the KSL using discriminant analysis, verified by logistic regression. The average rate of correct classification was 93% for discriminant analysis and 96% for logistic regression. Results indicated that multiple sources of contamination were present at all sampling locations and that the major source(s) (human, pets, livestock, wildlife) of contamination were generally related to the land-use patterns and human activities at each location. Although no major or minor human signatures were found, all but two locations had either pet or livestock as the major signature, suggesting that human-related activities are playing a key role in contamination of the streams. Pets were the single most frequent major signature and wildlife was the most common minor signature. Fluorometric analysis was used to corroborate human-derived contamination. Fluorometric analysis has the ability to detect the presence of optical brighteners, synthetic compounds added to such household items as laundry detergent, dishwashing detergent and other washing agents. Despite having an undesirably high rate of false negatives (negative fluorometry readings not supported by ARA), fluorometric analysis maintained a low rate of false positives (positive fluorometry readings not supported by ARA) and continued to demonstrate its potential for source tracking. This project represented one of the first attempts at applying a full suite of performance criteria now recommended by the source tracking community for all MST projects. Such concepts as experimental design, toolbox approach, minimum detectable percentage, quantification, accuracy, specificity, robustness, range of applicability, and practicality were successfully incorporated. These performance criteria have in effect set a new standard to which all subsequent MST projects should adhere.
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