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Environ Sci Technol. 2004 May 1;38(9):2637-48.

Scaling and management of fecal indicator bacteria in runoff from a coastal urban watershed in southern California.

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Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, Henry Samueli School of Engineering, University of California, Irvine, California 92697, USA.


This paper describes a series of field studies aimed at identifying the spatial distribution and flow forcing of fecal indicator bacteria in dry and wet weather runoff from the Talbert watershed, a highly urbanized coastal watershed in southern California. Runoff from this watershed drains through tidal channels to a popular public beach, Huntington State Beach, which has experienced chronic surf zone water quality problems over the past several years. During dry weather, concentrations of fecal indicator bacteria are highest in inland urban runoff, intermediate in tidal channels harboring variable mixtures of urban runoff and ocean water, and lowest in ocean water at the base of the watershed. This inland-to-coastal gradient is consistent with the hypothesis that urban runoff from the watershed contributes to coastal pollution. On a year round basis, the vast majority (>99%) of fecal indicator bacteria loading occurs during storm events when runoff diversions, the management approach of choice, are not operating. During storms, the load of fecal indicator bacteria in runoff follows a power law of the form L approximately Qn, where L is the loading rate (in units of fecal indicator bacteria per time), Q is the volumetric flow rate (in units of volume per time), and the exponent n ranges from 1 to 1.5. This power law and the observed range of exponent values are consistent with the predictions of a mathematical model that assumes fecal indicator bacteria in storm runoff originate from the erosion of contaminated sediments in drainage channels or storm sewers. The theoretical analysis, which is based on a conventional model for the shear-induced erosion of particles from land and channel-bed surfaces, predicts that the magnitude of the exponent n reflects the geometry of the stormwater conveyance system from which the pollution derives. This raises the possibility that the scaling properties of pollutants in stormwater runoff (i.e., the value of n) may harbor information about the origin of nonpoint source pollution.

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