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Modeling the transport and inactivation of E. coli and enterococci in the near-shore region of Lake Michigan

January 1, 2006

To investigate the transport and fate of fecal pollution at Great Lakes beaches and the health risks associated with swimming, the near-shore waters of Lake Michigan and two tributaries discharging into it were examined for bacterial indicators of human fecal pollution. The enterococcus human fecal pollution marker, which targets a putative virulence factorthe enterococcal surface protein (esp) in Enterococcus faecium, was detected in 2/28 samples (7%) in the tributaries draining into Lake Michigan and in 6/30 samples (20%) in Lake Michigan beaches. This was indicative of human fecal pollution being transported in the tributaries and occurrence at Lake Michigan beaches. To understand the relative importance of different processes influencing pollution transport and inactivation, a finite-element model of surf-zone hydrodynamics (coupled with models for temperature, E. coli and enterococci) was used. Enterococci appear to survive longer than E. coli, which was described using an overall first-order inactivation coefficient in the range 0.5−2.0 per day. Our analysis suggests that the majority of fecal indicator bacteria variation can be explained based on loadings from the tributaries. Sunlight is a major contributor to inactivation in the surf-zone and the formulation based on sunlight, temperature and sedimentation is preferred over the first-order inactivation formulation.