Source-tracking tools were used to identify potential sources of fecal contamination at two Lake Erie bathing beaches: an urban beach (Edgewater in Cleveland, Ohio) and a beach in a small city (Lakeshore in Ashtabula, Ohio). These tools included identifying spatial patterns of Escherichia coli (E. coli) concentrations in each area, determining weather patterns that caused elevated E. coli, and applying microbial source tracking (MST) techniques to specific sites. Three MST methods were used during this study: multiple antibiotic resistance (MAR) indexing of E. coli isolates and the presence of human-specific genetic markers within two types of bacteria, the genus Bacteroides and the species Enterococcus faecium.
At Edgewater, sampling for E. coli was done during 2003-05 at bathing-area sites, at nearshore lake sites, and in shallow ground water in foreshore and backshore areas. Spatial sampling at nearshore lake sites showed that fecal contamination was most likely of local origin; E. coli concentrations near the mouths of rivers and outfalls remote to the beach were elevated (greater than 235 colony-forming units per 100 milliliters (CFU/100 mL)) but decreased along transport pathways to the beach. In addition, E. coli concentrations were generally highest in bathing-area samples collected at 1- and 2-foot water depths, midrange at 3-foot depths, and lowest in nearshore lake samples typically collected 150 feet from the shoreline. Elevated E. coli concentrations at bathing-area sites were generally associated with increased wave heights and rainfall, but not always. E. coli concentrations were often elevated in shallow ground-water samples, especially in samples collected less than 10 feet from the edge of water (near foreshore area). The interaction of shallow ground water and waves may be a mechanism of E. coli storage and accumulation in foreshore sands. Infiltration of bird feces through sand with surface water from rainfall and high waves may be concentrating E. coli in shallow ground water in foreshore and backshore sands.
At Lakeshore, sampling for E. coli was done at bathing-area, nearshore lake, and parking-lot sites during 2004-05. Low concentrations of E. coli at nearshore lake sites furthest from the shoreline indicated that fecal contamination was most likely of local origin. High concentrations of E. coli in water and bed sediments at several nearshore lake sites showed that contamination was emanating from several points along the shoreline during wet and dry weather, including the boat ramp, an area near the pond drainage, and parking-lot sediments. Physical evidence confirmed that runoff from the parking lot leads to degradation of water quality at the beach.
MST samples were collected to help interpret spatial findings and determine whether sources of fecal contamination were from wastewater or bird feces and if a human-specific marker was present. MAR indices were useful in distinguishing between bird feces and wastewater sources because they were about 10 times higher in the latter. The results from MAR indices agreed with results from the two human-specific markers in some but not all of the samples tested. Bacteroides and enterococci human-specific markers were found on one day at Edgewater and two days at Lakeshore. On three days at Edgewater and two days at Lakeshore, the MAR index indicated a mixed source, but neither marker was found in bathing-water samples; this may be because bacterial indicator concentrations were too low to detect a marker.
Multiple tools are needed to help identify sources of fecal contamination at coastal beaches. Spatial sampling identified patterns in E. coli concentrations and yielded information on the physical pathways of contamination. MST methods provided information on whether the source was likely of human or nonhuman origin only; however, MST did not provide information on the pathways of contamination.