Stormflow dynamics and loads of Escherichia coli in a large mixed land use catchment

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Abstract

Storm events are major transporters of faecal microbial contaminants, but few studies have reported storm loads or concentration dynamics in relation to discharge or other pollutants, notably fine sediment. Episodically, high loads of faecal contamination during storm flows impact downstream uses of water bodies, particularly contact recreation and shellfish harvesting. We examined the storm dynamics of Escherichia coli, turbidity and discharge in the mixed land use Motueka catchment (2047 km2; 60% forest and 19% pasture) to gain insights into E. coli sources and transport. We also explored different approaches for calculating E. coli loads. Discharge and field turbidity were recorded continuously, and E. coli concentrations were sampled during events, over a 13-month period near the mouth of the Motueka River. E. coli loads were estimated by interpolation, averaging estimators and by using linear regression with smearing correction of the log-transformed variables: discharge, turbidity, and both turbidity and discharge. The annual E. coli load was dominated (∼98%) by export during events. Comparison of monthly monitoring with the intensive storm monitoring campaign suggests that simple stratification of the sampling into storm and baseflow would greatly improve export estimates. E. coli peak concentrations always preceded discharge and turbidity peaks (which had similar timing). Turbidity can be a useful surrogate for faecal microbes in smaller catchments, but in the Motueka turbidity was no better for predicting E. coli concentration than discharge. Runoff from grazed pasture and direct deposition from livestock are probably the ultimate E. coli sources in the Motueka catchment. However, in-channel stores seem to dominate E. coli dynamics during events and account for the typical feature of bacterial concentrations peaking ahead of discharge and turbidity. This study demonstrates the importance of storm events to faecal microbial loads and shows that E. coli concentration dynamics may contrast with those of turbidity. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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