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Relation between Enterococcus concentrations and turbidity in fresh and saline recreational waters, coastal Horry County, South Carolina, 2003–04

Open-File Report 2016-1015

Prepared in cooperation with Horry County Stormwater Management
By:
and
https://doi.org/10.3133/ofr20161015

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Abstract

Bacteria related to the intestinal tract of humans and other warm-blooded animals have been detected in fresh and saline surface waters used for recreational purposes in coastal areas of Horry County, South Carolina, since the early 2000s. Specifically, concentrations of the facultative anaerobic organism, Enterococcus, have been observed to exceed the single-sample regulatory limit of 104 colony forming units per 100 milliliters of water. Water bodies characterized by these concentrations are identified on the 303(d) list for impaired water in South Carolina; moreover, because current analytical methods used to monitor Enterococcus concentrations take up to 1 day for results to become available, water-quality advisories are not reflective of the actual health risk.

To determine if Enterococcus concentrations in surface water could be assessed in a more rapid manner, an investigation was completed between 2003 and 2004 in the study area of coastal Horry County, South Carolina. The study was designed to assess the relation between Enterococcus concentrations and turbidity, which, unlike Enterococcus concentrations, can be measured continuously by using a multiparameter water-quality sensor and results reported in real time. In 2003, three water-quality data collection stations that included a multiparameter water-quality sensor that measured turbidity were located in three representative surface-water basins in coastal Horry County, South Carolina. All these locations had previous reports of high Enterococcus concentrations. At each station, the water-quality sensor was placed in the water column and continuously measured turbidity, pH, specific conductivity, dissolved oxygen, and temperature. Each water-quality data collection station also monitored instantaneous precipitation and wind speed and direction. Surface-water samples were collected at each station during events characterized by no precipitation and by some recorded precipitation using manual and automatic methods, and analyzed for Enterococcus concentrations. A comparison of Enterococcus concentrations in surface-water samples collected simultaneously using both methods indicated a positive relation, although the average percent relative difference between the methods was 46 percent.

During a period of no precipitation in February 2004, no relation between turbidity and Enterococcus concentrations was observed for surface-water samples collected at the water-quality data collection station located in the channel that drains a freshwater swamp. In contrast, during periods of precipitation in March and August 2004 at this location, a positive relation was observed between turbidity and Enterococcus concentrations in surface-water samples; that is, water samples characterized by higher turbidity also contained higher Enterococcus concentrations. At the water-quality data collection station located in a channel that drains to the surf zone of the Atlantic Ocean, no relation was observed between turbidity and Enterococcus concentrations during periods of either no precipitation (July 2004) or precipitation (August 2004). At this location, the turbidity was inversely related to relative tide height, high turbidity was observed during low tide when freshwater flowed seaward, and low turbidity was observed during high tide when saline seawater flowed landward.

The positive relation observed between turbidity and Enterococcus concentrations in surface water at the water-quality data collection station located in the channel that drains a freshwater swamp may be attributed to bacterial survival in the abundant channel bed sediments that characterized this more naturalized area. Surface-water bed sediments collected near each water-quality data collection station and the surf zone were incubated in static microcosms in the laboratory and analyzed for Enterococcus concentrations over time. Enterococcus concentrations continued to persist in bed sediments collected in the channel that drains the swamp even after almost 4 months of incubation. Conversely, enterococci were not observed to persist in bed sediments characterized by high specific conductance. Although it is currently (2016) unknown whether this persistence of enterococci demonstrates growth or viability, the data indicate that enterococci can exist in channel bed-sediment environments outside of a host for a long time. This observation confirms previous reports that challenge the use of Enterococcus concentrations as an indicator of the recent introduction of fecal-related material and the associated acute risk to other pathogens.

Suggested Citation

Landmeyer, J.E., and Garigen, T.J., 2016, Relation between Enterococcus concentrations and turbidity in fresh and saline recreational waters, coastal Horry County, South Carolina, 2003–04: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2016–1015, 21 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/ofr20161015.

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract 
  • Introduction
  • Study Design for Data Collection
  • Relation Between Enterococcus Concentrations and Turbidity
  • Surface-Water Bed Sediments as a Source of Enterococcus to Fresh and Saline Recreational Waters
  • Summary
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 1

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Relation between Enterococcus concentrations and turbidity in fresh and saline recreational waters, coastal Horry County, South Carolina, 2003–04
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
2016-1015
DOI:
10.3133/ofr20161015
Year Published:
2016
Language:
English
Publisher:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston VA
Contributing office(s):
South Atlantic Water Science Center
Description:
Report: viii, 21 p., Appendixes: Tables 1-1, 1-2, 1-3
First page:
1
Last page:
21
Country:
United States
State:
South Carolina
County:
Horry County
Online Only (Y/N):
Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N):
Y