Transport of E. coli in aquifer sediments of Bangladesh: Implications for widespread microbial contamination of groundwater



[1] Fecal bacteria are frequently found at much greater distances than would be predicted by laboratory studies, indicating that improved models that incorporate more complexity might be needed to explain the widespread contamination of many shallow aquifers. In this study, laboratory measurements of breakthrough and retained bacteria in columns of intact and repacked sediment cores from Bangladesh were fit using a two-population model with separate reversible and irreversible attachment sites that also incorporated bacterial decay rates. Separate microcosms indicated an average first-order decay rate of 0.03 log10/day for both free bacteria in the liquid phase and bacteria attached to the solid phase. Although two thirds of the column results could be well fit with a dual-deposition site, single-population model, fitting of one third of the results required a two-population model with a high irreversible attachment rate (between 5 and 60 h−1) for one population of bacteria and a much lower rate (from 5 h−1 to essentially zero) for the second. Inferred attachment rates for the reversible sites varied inversely with grain size (varying from 1 to 20 h−1 for grain sizes between 0.1 and 0.3 mm) while reversible detachment rates were found to be nearly constant (approximately 0.5 h−1). Field simulations based on the fitted two-population model parameters predict only a twofold reduction in fecal source concentration over a distance of 10 m, determined primarily by the decay rate of the bacteria. The existence of a secondary population of bacteria with a low attachment rate might help explain the observed widespread contamination of tubewell water with E. coli at the field site where the cores were collected as well as other similar sites.