Tillamook Estuaries Partnership

A National Estuary Project

New Study Uses Genetics to Identify Sources of Bacteria

Posted on Jul. 23rd, 2019

TEP participated in a recently published study that used Microbial Source Tracking (MST) to identify various sources that may be contributing to bacteria pollution in the Tillamook Bay Watershed. Fecal waste can enter waterways from a variety of sources such as leaky sewer lines, faulty septic systems, storm water run-off, improper agricultural waste management, and local wildlife.

Using newly available technologies, researchers were able to identify the sources of Escherichia coli (E. coli) or enterococci bacteria detected in water samples collected from 29 sites in the Tillamook Bay watershed (Trask, Kilchis, and Tillamook rivers). Fecal source identification findings revealed evident human, cattle, ruminant (elk/deer), canine and avian (bird) fecal pollution trends in the watershed.

Management of fecal pollution presents a major challenge for communities in the Tillamook Bay Watershed and worldwide. Fecal pollution present in waterways represents a serious public health risk and can lead to severe economic burdens. Tillamook Estuaries Partnership monitors water quality biweekly in all five estuaries and their watersheds in Tillamook County using indicator bacteria (E. coli or enterococci) levels in the water. While presence of these bacteria can be used to determine total pollution levels and alert recreational users to potential hazards, they do not indicate the cause or source of the pollutants. This limits the ability of TEP and our partners to implement effective water quality improvement projects.

Using the results of this study, TEP and water quality managers can identify and address the sources of fecal pollution. Whether the source be a leaky septic system, stormwater drain, or agricultural waste, TEP and our partners can work with land managers, property owners, or municipalities to eliminate or reduce the input of fecal pollution.

The study was co-authored by TEP’s monitoring program coordinator, York Johnson, and researchers from the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, Oregon Department of Agriculture, and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

Access the full study at PLOS ONE

CITATION: Li X, Sivaganesan M, Kelty CA, Zimmer-Faust A, Clinton P, et al. (2019) Large-scale implementation of standardized quantitative real-time PCR fecal source identification procedures in the Tillamook Bay Watershed. PLOS ONE 14(6): e0216827. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0216827

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