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Storm Drains are Sources of Human Fecal Pollution during Dry Weather in Three Urban Southern California Watersheds

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journal contribution
posted on 15.01.2009, 00:00 by Bram Sercu, Laurie C. Van De Werfhorst, Jill Murray, Patricia A. Holden
Coastal urbanized areas in Southern California experience frequent beach water quality warnings in summer due to high concentrations of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB). Remediation can be difficult, as sources are often unknown. During two summers, we sampled three urbanized watersheds in Santa Barbara, CA at sites with historically high FIB concentrations to determine if human fecal matter was influencing water quality. By quantification of a human-specific Bacteroides marker (HBM), human waste was evidenced throughout both transects, and concentrations were highest in the discharges of several flowing storm drains. The HBM concentrations in storm drain discharges varied by up to 5 orders of magnitude on the same day. While the exact points of entry into the storm drain systems were not definitively determined, further inspection of the drain infrastructure suggested exfiltrating sanitary sewers as possible sources. The HBM and FIB concentrations were not consistently correlated, although the exclusive occurrence of high HBM concentrations with high FIB concentrations warrants the use of FIB analyses for a first tier of sampling. The association of human fecal pollution with dry weather drainage could be a window into a larger problem for other urbanized coastal areas with Mediterranean-type climates.