Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2019SC236B

Fecal coliform pollution and antibiotic resistance in Sand River in Aiken, SC

Institute: South Carolina
Year Established: 2019 Start Date: 2019-03-31 End Date: 2020-03-30
Total Federal Funds: $11,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $22,284

Principal Investigators: Sarah Michele Harmon

Abstract: The Horse Creek watershed within the Savannah River Basin in Aiken County, SC, is known for its history of high coliform pollution. The University of South Carolina Aiken began an undergraduate student monitoring and assessment program in the upper reaches of Horse Creek in January 2011 and identified one particular tributary, Sand River, as being a major contributor of bacterial pollution to the Horse Creek / Savannah River watershed. Sand River has its headwaters in the downtown area of Aiken, SC, before it flows through Hitchcock Woods, a 2100-acre urban forest. The stream then joins Horse Creek immediately upstream of Langley Pond, a local reservoir providing recreational opportunities (e.g., fishing, swimming, and boating) for many low-income and minority citizens. The headwater area of Sand River is within the city limits of Aiken, where older homes depend upon aging sewer and/or septic systems. In addition, Aiken boasts a thriving horse industry, with numerous stables in the downtown area, and the major recreational activities within Hitchcock Woods are equestrian in nature. This makes humans and/or horses the most likely sources for fecal pollution in Sand River, Horse Creek, and Langley Pond. The presence of fecal pollution in this stream and reservoir is a children’s health risk issue, as well as an Environmental Justice issue. We propose to involve local university students in research which applies host-specific genetic markers for microbial source tracking to help identify the source of the bacteria (e.g., human or equine) in these headwater drainages. Previous research by USC Aiken also noted the presence of antibiotic resistant bacteria in Sand River (Harmon et al. 2014); therefore, we are also requesting funds to test for the presence of antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant bacterial genes in the water and sediment of these same drainages and ponded wetlands. This project will provide valuable experience for the undergraduate students involved, and the findings can be used to refine and improve future nonpoint source remediation efforts within the watershed.