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Assessment of fecal contamination sources to Alley Creek, Queens County, New York, August 2020–June 2021

July 20, 2022

Alley Creek, a tributary to Little Neck Bay in Queens County, New York, has been designated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation as impaired (Class I) for fecal coliform because of pollution from combined sewer overflow, including stormwater runoff. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, conducted a 1-year study from August 2020 to June 2021 using microbial source tracking (MST) methods to assess potential host sources of fecal contamination (for example, human, canine, and waterfowl) from the following: three outfall sites, TI–025, TI–008, and TI–024; an artesian well (Q277) adjacent to Alley Creek; and natural waters within the Alley Creek watershed and Little Neck Bay. In addition to analyzing for MST markers, field measurements such as water temperature and specific conductance, samples for total suspended solids, and fecal indicator bacteria (FIB; enterococci and fecal coliform) were collected. Pharmaceutical compounds were also collected for analysis, and the results of sampling were compared spatially and temporally to help support management decisions related to mitigation of fecal sources to Alley Creek. Factors that could affect concentrations, including tidal conditions, seasonality, and weather conditions, also were assessed. A sediment resuspension laboratory experiment was designed to replicate tidal activity in Alley Creek using sediment collected in the sewers and on the shoreline, as well as water collected from Oakland Lake. These sediment samples were assessed to understand the relation between sediment resuspension and FIB in the water column. The human MST markers used for this study, Bacteroides HF183/BacR287, and crAssphage CPQ_056 and CPQ_064, were detected in most samples (27 of 28) collected at the three outfall sites along Alley Creek, whereas the canine marker BacCan was less prevalent (20 of 28 samples) but exhibited a pattern of relative concentrations similar to the human markers. The waterfowl MST GFD marker was detected in 7 of 28 samples collected at the three outfall sites. Human MST markers were not detected at Oakland Lake (which drains through a combined sewer line to Alley Creek at TI–008), indicating minimal or nonexistent influence of sewage contamination in the lake. Groundwater samples collected from Q277 did not contain any MST markers, and concentrations of fecal coliform were less than 10 colony forming units per 100 milliliters. Although FIB did not correlate well with total suspended solids for individual sample sets, samples collected following precipitation and high-turbidity events were typically found to have higher concentrations of FIB than dry-weather samples. Results from the pharmaceutical compounds analysis provided additional evidence for determining known and suspected human sources when coupled with MST markers. Together, the MST, pharmaceutical, and FIB data generated by this study, along with supplementary data such as locations of point sources, locations of wildlife populations, and tidal exchange data, may provide reliable information on source identification and transport mechanisms of fecal contamination to Alley Creek.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2022
Title Assessment of fecal contamination sources to Alley Creek, Queens County, New York, August 2020–June 2021
DOI 10.3133/sir20225068
Authors Shawn C. Fisher, Christopher M. Kephart, Natalie Cheung, Tristen N. Tagliaferri
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2022-5068
Index ID sir20225068
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New York Water Science Center