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Microbial Contamination of Drinking Water Supplied by Private Wells after Hurricane Harvey

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journal contribution
posted on 25.05.2021, 16:17 by Kelsey J. Pieper, C. Nathan Jones, William J. Rhoads, McNamara Rome, Drew M. Gholson, Adrienne Katner, Diane E. Boellstorff, R. Edward Beighley
Hurricane Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast on August 25, 2017, as a Category 4 hurricane and caused widespread flooding. We explored spatial and temporal distributions of well testing and contamination rates; relationships between contamination and system characteristics and recovery behaviors; and efficacy of mitigation strategies. We estimated that over 500 000 well users (∼130 000 to 260 000 wells) may have been affected, but only around 15 000 well users (∼3800 to 7500 wells) had inundated systems based on inundation maps. Local health departments and our team sampled 8822 wells in 44 counties in the 10 months that followed. Total coliform occurrence was 1.5 times and Escherichia coli was 2.8 times higher after Hurricane Harvey compared to baseline levels. Microbial contamination was more likely (1.7–2.5 times higher) when wells were inundated and/or residents felt their water was unsafe. Although more wells in urban counties were affected, E. coli rates were higher in wells in rural counties. Disinfection did not always eliminate contamination, highlighting concerns about the implementation and efficacy of chlorination procedures. Despite this extensive well testing conducted after Hurricane Harvey, we estimate that only 4.1% of potentially affected wells were tested, underscoring the magnitude of recovery assistance needed to assist well users after flooding events.

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