Assessing the Source of Fecal Contamination in Streams on Kaua'i Based on Concentration and Genotypes of FRNA Bacteriophages

Date
2005-08
Authors
Vithanage, Gayatri
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Publisher
Water Resources Research Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Abstract
Extensive data from O'ahu indicate that all streams on this island consistently exceed the USEPA standards (200 fecal coliform/100 ml, 33 enterococci/100 ml) for water quality. Soil was determined to be the source of the elevated counts of these bacteria. In tropical areas, as Hawai'i, these bacteria are able to survive and multiply in the soil. Thus, these bacteria can end up in nearby streams after heavy rains or due to erosion. As a result, the USEPA recommended indicator bacteria (fecal coliform, enterococci) cannot be used to reliably determine when waters in tropical areas are fecally contaminated. Several alternative indicators have been proposed for such areas such as C. perfringens and FRNA coliphages. Extensive monitoring data does not exist for the other islands of Hawai'i. Kaua'i differs from O'ahu in that it is older, wetter and contains an abundance of cesspools. The Nawiliwili Watershed, on the island of Kaua'i, was chosen for this study. Sampling was conducted over a period of one year, and all samples were assayed for the traditional USEPA indicators (fecal, coliform, enterococci) as well as two alternative indicators (C. perfringens, FRNA coliphages). Of the 14 sites sampled, 12 contained levels of fecal coliform and enterococci that exceeded the USEPA standards (200 fecal coliform/100 ml and 33 enterococci/100 ml. This is similar to what has been documented in O'ahu streams. Based on the concentrations of these indicator bacteria, the USEPA would deem these sites as sewage contaminated. However, monitoring of these same sites for C. perfringens indicated that there was no sewage contamination (geometric mean values fell below the proposed standard of 50 CFU/100 ml). FRNA coliphage data indicate that cesspools may be leaching into nearby streams. Two streams (Nawiliwili, Papakōlea) had geometric mean levels greater than the 50 PFU/100 ml (based on O'ahu streams). Other streams in the watershed may be sporadically contaminated by cesspool because elevated FRNA coliphage levels were detected on occasion. Genotyping these FRNA coliphage isolates furthered supported the theory that cesspools were contaminating these sites because 98% of the FRNA isolates were typed as human while only 2% were typed as of animal origin. Current USEPA standards (fecal coliform, enterococci) are not reliable indicators of sewage pollution in tropical areas, thus, alternative indicators such as C. perfringens and FRNA coliphages may prove to be better indicators in these areas.
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Citation
Vithanage G. 2005. Assessing the source of fecal contamination in streams on kaua'i based on concentration and genotypes of frna bacteriophages. Honolulu (HI): Water Resources Research Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa.
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