Detangling Seasonal Relationships of Fecal Contamination Sources and Correlates with Indicators in Michigan Watersheds

Amanda M. Wilson, Sherry L. Martin, Marc P. Verhougstraete, Anthony D. Kendall, Amity G. Zimmer-Faust, Joan B. Rose, Melanie L. Bell, David W. Hyndman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite the widely acknowledged public health impacts of surface water fecal contamination, there is limited understanding of seasonal effects on (i) fate and transport processes and (ii) the mechanisms by which they contribute to water quality impairment. Quantifying relationships between land use, chemical parameters, and fecal bacterial concentrations in watersheds can help guide the monitoring and control of microbial water quality and explain seasonal differences. The goals of this study were to (i) identify seasonal differences in Escherichia coli and Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron concentrations, (ii) evaluate environmental drivers influencing microbial contamination during baseflow, snowmelt, and summer rain seasons, and (iii) relate seasonal changes in B. thetaiotaomicron to anticipated gastrointestinal infection risks. Water chemistry data collected during three hydroclimatic seasons from 64 Michigan watersheds were analyzed using seasonal linear regression models with candidate variables including crop and land use proportions, prior precipitation, chemical parameters, and variables related to both wastewater treatment and septic usage. Adaptive least absolute shrinkage and selection operator (LASSO) linear regression with bootstrapping was used to select explanatory variables and estimate coefficients. Regardless of season, wastewater treatment plant and septic system usage were consistently selected in all primary models for B. thetaiotaomicron and E. coli. Chemistry and precipitation-related variable selection depended upon season and organism. These results suggest a link between human pollution (e.g., septic systems) and microbial water quality that is dependent on flow regime.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalMicrobiology Spectrum
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2022


  • B. thetaiotaomicron
  • E. coli
  • fecal indicator
  • septic systems
  • water quality
  • watershed

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Ecology
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Genetics
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Cell Biology
  • Infectious Diseases


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