Fecal Coliform Removal by River Networks

Wednesday, 16 December 2015: 11:05
3024 (Moscone West)
Tao Huang, Wilfred M Wollheim and Robert James Stewart, University of New Hampshire Main Campus, Durham, NH, United States
Bacterial pathogens are a major cause of water quality impairment in the United States. Freshwater ecosystems provide the ecosystem service of reducing pathogen levels by diluting and removing pathogens as water flows from source areas through the river network. However, the integration of field-scale monitoring data and watershed-scale hydrologic models to estimate pathogen loads and removal in varied aquatic ecosystems is still limited. In this study we applied a biogeochemical river network model (the Framework for Aquatic Modeling in the Earth System or FrAMES) and utilized available field data the Oyster R. watershed, a small (51.7 km2) draining coastal New Hampshire (NH, USA), to quantify pathogen removal at the river network scale, using fecal coliform as an indicator. The Oyster R. Watershed is comprised of various land use types, and has had its water quality monitored for fecal coliform, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity since 2001. Water samples were also collected during storm events to account for storm responses. FrAMES was updated to incorporate the dominant processes controlling fecal coliform concentrations in aquatic ecosystems: spatially distributed terrestrial loading, in-stream removal, dilution, and downstream transport. We applied an empirical loading function to estimate the terrestrial loading of fecal coliform across flow conditions. Data was collected from various land use types across a range of hydrologic conditions. The loading relationship includes total daily precipitation, antecedent 24-hour rainfall, air temperature, and catchment impervious surface percentage. Attenuation is due to bacterial “die-off” and dilution processes. Results show that fecal coliform input loads varied among different land use types. At low flow, fecal coliform concentrations were similar among watersheds. However, at high flow the concentrations were significantly higher in urbanized watersheds than forested watersheds. The mainstem had lower fecal coliform concentrations at both low and high flow due to dilution and in-stream processing. Mapping the spatial and temporal distribution fecal coliform sources and removal can help improve water quality management.