Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2017TN129B

Evaluation of Fecal Indicators and Pathogens at Recreational Beaches in Central Tennessee

Institute: Tennessee
Year Established: 2017 Start Date: 2017-03-01 End Date: 2019-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $16,439 Total Non-Federal Funds: $56,853

Principal Investigators: Frank Bailey, Megan Stallard

Abstract: Approximately 59 million people visited a beach in 2010. The visitation and subsequent economic value associated with a beach is intimately linked to the beachs water quality. In the U.S., water quality at coastal and Great Lakes beaches is monitored for the presence of fecal pathogens and associated health risk by enumerating easily culturable surrogate (non-pathogen) fecal indicators in water samples (e.g. Escherichia coli or enterococci). Of 3,762 coastal beaches where water was monitored for fecal pathogens in 2012, 1,504 (40%) had at least one advisory or closure. In addition to water, sand contact has been implicated as a potential health risk to beachgoers due to presence of fecal bacteria, viruses, and associated pathogens, but no federal regulatory criteria have been developed for fecal pathogens in sand. Most research has focused on the presence of fecal indicators and pathogens in beach sand from coastal and Great Lakes locations, while studies at other inland recreational beaches are less represented in the literature. Previous research in our laboratory in summer 2015 at Cedar Creek Recreational Beach at Old Hickory Lake in central Tennessee showed the highest concentration of E. coli in sand samples closest to shore and in the top 10cm of sand, with relatively high concentrations of E. coli in both wet and dry swash zone sand. The proposed project will address the following research questions, with the goal of improving the understanding of fecal indicators found at inland recreational beaches: 1) How abundant are traditional (i.e. E. coli) and alternative fecal indicators (i.e. Bacteroidales and coliphages) and pathogens (i.e. Staphylococcus aureus) in sand and water at Cedar Creek Recreational Area on Old Hickory Reservoir and Barton Springs Recreational Area on Normandy Reservoir in Tennessee? and 2) Do human feces contribute to the fecal indicators and pathogens found at these sites? Beach sampling will occur six times at each site during the peak recreational season from late May through early September 2017 including Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. At 5 locations from each site, cores of swash zone sand will be collected by sterile PVC pipe to a depth of ~10cm from both the foreshore (dryer sand, ~0.5m inland from the shoreline) and the intertidal (water-inundated) zone (~0.5m into the water from the shoreline). Water samples will also be collected in sterile plastic bottles at 3 locations per site in ~0.5m deep water. Using culture-based methods, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) will be measured in water and in sand, with PCR verification of Staphylococcus aureus and MRSA. Presence of human-associated fecal pollution will be assessed by qPCR (quantitative polymerase chain reaction, a molecular genetic technique) targeting HF183 Bacteroides 16s rRNA genetic marker. Coliphages, viruses that infect fecal coliforms, will be measured by EPA Method 1602: single agar layer(SAL)procedure, as an indicator of potential enteric virus presence. This research project will benefit state and federal regulatory agencies by providing data on the presence of fecal bacteria, pathogens and viruses at inland freshwater recreational beaches. These data will have potential implications for both environmental and human health protection and will provide preliminary information to regulators in the likely event sand criteria are developed in the future. From a research standpoint, this will fill a knowledge gap in the literature regarding fecal contamination in sand and water from inland freshwater recreational beaches.