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Sci Total Environ. 2010 Nov 1;408(23):5649-56. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2009.07.033. Epub 2009 Aug 29.

Microbial water pollution: a screening tool for initial catchment-scale assessment and source apportionment.

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Catchment and Coastal Research Centre, River Basin Dynamics and Hydrology Research Group, IGES, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion SY23 3DB, UK.


The European Union Water Framework Directive requires that Management Plans are developed for individual River Basin Districts. From the point of view of faecal indicator organisms (FIOs), there is a critical need for screening tools that can provide a rapid assessment of the likely FIO concentrations and fluxes within catchments under base- and high-flow conditions, and of the balance ('source apportionment') between agriculture- and sewage-derived sources. Accordingly, the present paper reports on: (1) the development of preliminary generic models, using water quality and land cover data from previous UK catchment studies for assessing FIO concentrations, fluxes and source apportionment within catchments during the summer bathing season; (2) the calibration of national land use data, against data previously used in the models; and (3) provisional FIO concentration and source-apportionment assessments for England and Wales. The models clearly highlighted the crucial importance of high-flow conditions for the flux of FIOs within catchments. At high flow, improved grassland (and associated livestock) was the key FIO source; FIO loadings derived from catchments with high proportions of improved grassland were shown to be as high as from urbanized catchments; and in many rural catchments, especially in NW and SW England and Wales, which are important areas of lowland livestock (especially dairy) farming, ≥ 40% of FIOs was assessed to be derived from agricultural sources. In contrast, under base-flow conditions, when there was little or no runoff from agricultural land, urban (i.e. sewerage-related) sources were assessed to dominate, and even in rural areas the majority of FIOs were attributed to urban sources. The results of the study demonstrate the potential of this type of approach, particularly in light of climate change and the likelihood of more high-flow events, in underpinning informed policy development and prioritization of investment.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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