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Ubiquity and Persistence of Escherichia coli in a Midwestern Coastal Stream†

  • Muruleedhara Byappanahalli
  • Melanie Fowler
  • Dawn Shively
  • Richard Whitman
American Society for Microbiology
Publication Date
Aug 01, 2003


Dunes Creek, a small Lake Michigan coastal stream that drains sandy aquifers and wetlands of Indiana Dunes, has chronically elevated Escherichia coli levels along the bathing beach near its outfall. This study sought to understand the sources of E. coli in Dunes Creek's central branch. A systematic survey of random and fixed sampling points of water and sediment was conducted over 3 years. E. coli concentrations in Dunes Creek and beach water were significantly correlated. Weekly monitoring at 14 stations during 1999 and 2000 indicated chronic loading of E. coli throughout the stream. Significant correlations between E. coli numbers in stream water and stream sediment, submerged sediment and margin, and margin and 1 m from shore were found. Median E. coli counts were highest in stream sediments, followed by bank sediments, sediments along spring margins, stream water, and isolated pools; in forest soils, E. coli counts were more variable and relatively lower. Sediment moisture was significantly correlated with E. coli counts. Direct fecal input inadequately explains the widespread and consistent occurrence of E. coli in the Dunes Creek watershed; long-term survival or multiplication or both seem likely. The authors conclude that (i) E. coli is ubiquitous and persistent throughout the Dunes Creek basin, (ii) E. coli occurrence and distribution in riparian sediments help account for the continuous loading of the bacteria in Dunes Creek, and (iii) ditching of the stream, increased drainage, and subsequent loss of wetlands may account for the chronically high E. coli levels observed.

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