The U.S. Geological Survey conducted a synoptic investigation of fecal bacterial pollution in headwater streams and springs on Monte Sano Mountain. A total of 18 sites were sampled over a 3 day period in late January 1998. Fifteen of the sites were located hydrologically downgradient from residential areas on top of Monte Sano Mountain. Three additional sites were selected as background sites in unpopulated areas on Huntsville Mountain, south of Monte Sano Mountain. Sampling was conducted during a period of high baseflow after a recent storm when no surface runoff was present. Any contaminants identified in the streams and springs were likely derived from ground-water discharge because overland flow was not evident.
Four of the five sites in the Pottsville-Pennington unit (uppermost) with the highest concentration of residential land use had Escherichia coli (E. coli) concentrations that were more than 25 times the background level. In contrast, with the exception of one site, E. coli concentrations in the Bangor-Monteagle unit (middle) and Tuscumbia unit (lowermost) were at or near background levels. Caffeine was also detected in the Pottsville-Pennington unit at a site with one of the highest densities of E. coli. Elevated levels of nitrate and chloride were also identified at sites in the Pottsville-Pennington unit.
The results of this synoptic sampling event identified elevated concentrations of fecal bacteria in the Pottsville-Pennington unit at the top of the mountain. These elevated bacterial concentrations occurred in conjunction with caffeine detection and elevated levels of nitrate and chloride. This indicates that there is a potential water-quality problem related to discharge from the shallow ground-water system. These sites are located in close proximity to residential development, indicating that the most probable source of the elevated fecal bacterial concentrations was septic tank effluent.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Synoptic survey of septic indicators in streams and springs at Monte Sano Mountain, Madison County, Alabama, January 29-31, 1998
Water-Resources Investigations Report
U.S. Dept. of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey ;
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