Transport of free and particulate-associated bacteria in karst
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Karst aquifers, because of their unique hydrogeologic characteristics, are extremely susceptible to contamination by pathogens. Here we present the results of an investigation of contamination of a karst aquifer by fecal indicator bacteria. Two wells intercepting zones with contrasting effective hydraulic conductivities, as determined by pump test, were monitored both during the dry season and in response to a rain event. Samples were also collected from the adjacent ephemeral surface stream, which is known to be impacted by an upstream wastewater treatment plant after rainfall. Whole water and suspended sediment samples were analyzed for fecal coliforms and enterococci. During the dry season, pumping over a 2-day period resulted in increases in concentrations of fecal coliforms to greater than 10,000 CFU/100 ml in the high-conductivity well; enterococci and total suspended solids also increased, to a lesser degree. Toward the end of the pumping period, as much as 50% of the fecal coliforms were associated with suspended sediment. Irrigation of an up-gradient pine plantation with primary-treated wastewater is the probable source of the bacterial contamination. Sampling after a rain event revealed the strong influence of water quality of the adjacent Terrieu Creek on the ground water. Bacterial concentrations in the wells showed a rapid response to increased concentrations in the surface water, with fecal coliform concentrations in ground water ultimately reaching 60,000 CFU/100 ml. Up to 100% of the bacteria in the ground water was associated with suspended sediment at various times. The results of this investigation are evidence of the strong influence of surface water on ground water in karst terrain, including that of irrigation water. The large proportion of bacteria associated with particulates in the ground water has important implications for public health, as bacteria associated with particulates may be more persistent and more difficult to inactivate. The high bacterial concentrations found in both wells