Fecal Contamination and Microbial Source Tracking

Molly and Rick Sampling

The Environmental Chemistry Lab is involved with various research projects aimed at monitoring and improving the water quality of Michigan streams and beaches. In conjunction with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and various labs across Michigan, we are working on the development of a new, standardized qPCR criteria for E. coli concentrations in beach water samples. By developing a standardized method and criteria, we are able to quickly and accurately detect fecal pollution in recreational waters and can serve as a point of reference for the scientific community, as well as other governmental agencies interested in improving water monitoring criteria. E. coli concentrations determined in this way can be linked to existing BeachGuard data and will be made available for public access.

In addition to E. coli monitoring, we are placing increased emphasis on genetic techniques for the purposes of determining sources of fecal pollution in watersheds. This technique, termed Microbial Source Tracking (MST), uses genetic markers liked to species specific gut microbes and can be employed to detect and quantify fecal pollution originating from several sources including: human, bovine, porcine, avian, dog, etc. We are currently working with the US EPA to apply this method at beaches across the State of Michigan.

We continue to be involved in restoring the natural status of Western Michigan streams and are continuously working to improve the ecological and hydrological conditions in local watersheds. We are currently using our environmental chemistry and genetic methods to pinpoint critical intervention areas in Flower Creek and Little Flower Creek. These analyses are used to determine the severity and causes of microbial pollution, sedimentation, structural failure, and to recommend remediation strategies to local stakeholders. Our work with local communities has led to the publication of two reports which identified potential causes of, and solutions to, sedimentation, fecal contamination, and fish passage blockages in Flower Creek and Little Flower Creek.

MDEQ Minute - E. coli


MDEQ: Development of E. coli beach water monitoring standard

US EPA & MDEQ: Use of MST as a means to improve monitoring efforts in Michigan watersheds

Improvement of impaired Western Michigan streams: Little Flower Creek and Flower Creek

Page last modified March 25, 2019