Srinivasan Ravichandran, Sriambharrish (2012-07). Microbial Risk Perspective on the Temporal and Spatial Variability of Indicator Bacteria in Texas Urban and Rural Watersheds. Master's Thesis. Thesis uri icon


  • The high incidence of pathogens is one of the main causes for impaired surface water quality designations in the United States. Pathogen presence in fresh water is monitored through the detection of indicator bacteria. Indicator bacteria concentrations, spatial and temporal variability, and microbial risks were evaluated in two rural watersheds, the Bosque and Leon Rivers, and one predominantly urban watershed, the San Jacinto River, all in Texas. Human health risk was predicted from contaminated waters as indicated by ingestion of Escherichia coli found in surface water for contact recreation scenarios. The watersheds were chosen because many segments were previously placed on the 303 (d) list (published by the TCEQ) for failing the indicator bacteria standards. Predominantly urban areas of the San Jacinto River and rural portions of the Bosque and Leon Rivers, where Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are numerous, were compared to relatively pristine rural watersheds. Spatial analysis of the watersheds with E.coli concentrations exceeding the single sample (394 MPN/100mL) and the geometric mean standards (126 MPN/100mL) indicated that land use is a significant factor influencing the incidence of bacterial concentrations. Non-agricultural rural areas of the watersheds, such as forests and rangelands, had significantly lower E.coli concentrations compared to the agricultural areas and urban land uses. Human health risk due to ingestion of E.coli as an indicator organism indicated a similar pattern to that of their concentrations in that urban and agricultural areas had a greater risk compared to the other rural areas of the watersheds. The risk estimate for urban and agricultural areas exceeded the acceptable limit of one in ten thousand (10^-4), indicating a potential for adverse health effects to humans. Temporal variability in the watersheds as a function of streamflow, rainfall, and temperature indicated a positive correlation between bacterial concentration and high streamflow, rainfall and temperature. The positive correlation for these effects was greater in the rural areas compared to urban areas, indicating the presence of multiple factors responsible for E.coli concentrations in urban areas. Thus, land use was confirmed to be a major factor contributing to the presence of indicator bacteria in surface waters.

publication date

  • July 2012