Abstract Recent evidence of extended survival of fecal indicator bacteria in sediments and submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) has raised concerns about using indicator bacteria to reliably detect fecal contamination. We monitored enterococci densities and population structure in water, sediment and SAV simultaneously at sites across a subtropical watershed (Tampa Bay, FL, USA) over one year to determine the extent to which each matrix serves as a potential reservoir of enterococci. SAV harbored significantly higher mean densities of enterococci than sediments, which harbored higher densities than water. Mean enterococci densities were also greater at sites located further upstream in the watershed. The population structure assessed by BOX-PCR genotyping was relatively dissimilar in each sample, although some similarities among samples suggested grouping by location. Strain diversity ranged from very high to negligible, with lowest overall diversity in lake samples taken during the summer. Several strains were highly abundant and cosmopolitan (found across sites, seasons, and matrices) and were identified by 16S rRNA gene sequencing as the Enterococcus species casseliflavus, faecalis, faecium, hirae, and mundtii. The proportional dominance of certain strains suggests the existence of persistent and possibly naturalized indicator bacteria populations that are not directly related to pollution events.