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The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, conducted a study to characterize the occurrence and distribution of viral contamination in small (withdrawing less than 10,000 gallons per day) public water-supply wells screened in the water-table aquifer in the Coastal Plain in Worcester and Wicomico Counties, Maryland.Two hundred seventy-eight well sites were evaluated with regard to simulated ground-water flow paths, land use, natural soils groups, and well characteristics, such as well depth and well age. Flow and transport simulations of the water-table aquifer indicated that wells screened less than about 50 feet below land surface (shallow wells) were most vulnerable to surface contamination, which in some cases could originate from as far as 2,000 feet upgradient of the well. Animal-feeding and agricultural-storage operations were considered among the most likely sources for viral contamination; therefore, sites close to these activities were considered most vulnerable. Soil groups were evaluated with regard to depth to water and moisture-holding capacity. Wells with shallow depths to water or in very sandy soils were considered more vulnerable to contamination than deep wells (greater than 50 feet) and those completed in finer-grained soils. Older wells and wells where coliform bacteria had been detected in the past were classified as highly vulnerable. On the basis of this evaluation, 27 sites considered to be susceptible were sampled.Samples were collected by pumping up to 400 gallons of untreated well water through an electropositive filter. Water concentrates were subjected to cell-culture assay for the detection of culturable viruses and reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction/gene probe assays to detect nonculturable viruses; grab samples were analyzed for somatic and male-specific coliphages, Bacteroides fragilis, Clostridium perfringens, enterococci, Escherichia coli, total coliforms, total oxidized nitrogen, dissolved organic carbon, organic nitrogen, total phosphate, orthophosphate, acid-neutralizing capacity, pH, specific conductance, temperature, and dissolved oxygen.Eleven percent of the samples analyzed (3 of 27) tested positive for either culturable viruses or the presence of viral ribonucleic acid. Approximately 15 percent of the samples (4 of 27) tested positive for one or more bacterial contaminants.
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Occurrence and distribution of enteric viruses in shallow ground water and factors affecting well vulnerability to microbiological contamination in Worcester and Wicomico counties, Maryland