Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Monitoring and real-time modeling of Escherichia coli bacteria for the Chattahoochee River, Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, Georgia, 2000–2019

July 23, 2020

The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (CRNRA) is a National Park Service unit/park with 48 miles of urban waterway in the Atlanta metropolitan area. The Chattahoochee River within the CRNRA is a popular place for water-based recreation but is known to periodically experience elevated levels of fecal-coliform bacteria associated with warm-blooded animals that can result in a variety of pathogen-related human illnesses. In 2000, the National Park Service entered into a public-private partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, called the Chattahoochee River BacteriALERT program, to monitor Escherichia coli (E. coli), which is a fecal indicator bacteria and a proxy for human health risk from waterborne pathogens. The BacteriALERT network monitors E. coli densities at three stations on the Chattahoochee River within the CRNRA, at Norcross (USGS station 02335000), Powers Ferry (USGS station 02335880), and Atlanta (USGS station 02336000). E. coli densities determined from water samples were compared to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Beach Action Value (BAV) of 235 colony forming units per 100 milliliters to assess whether conditions were considered safe for freshwater, primary contact recreational use. Sample E. coli densities exceeded the BAV for 15.5 percent of the samples collected at Norcross (n = 1,969) and 30.3 percent of the samples at Atlanta (n = 1,938) for the study period October 23, 2000, to May 23, 2019, and 33.6 percent of the samples from Powers Ferry (n = 134) for the study period May 5, 2016, to May 23, 2019.

Models to predict E. coli densities in near real-time were developed for the three BacteriALERT stations. Models were developed using forward-stepwise multiple linear regression with the Bayesian Information Criteria and were calibrated with samples collected between October 4, 2007, and May 23, 2019. Explanatory variables included season, turbidity, water temperature, streamflow, upstream tributary streamflows, and temporal trend. The most statistically significant explanatory variables in the models were turbidity, upstream tributary streamflows, and season. The Norcross model had an increasing trend in E. coli densities of 2.3 percent per year. A significant trend was not detected for the Atlanta station, while trends were not assessed for Powers Ferry models due to the short (3-year) calibration period. Model adjusted R2s ranged from 0.686 (Atlanta) to 0.795 (Norcross with time trend) indicating that the models explained a substantial portion of the variations in E. coli densities. Evaluation of model predictions and residuals indicated that models were well posed and exhibited little bias. The models performed well in accurately determining compliance and exceedance of the BAV with low misidentification rates ranging from 3.5 percent (Norcross) to 11.3 percent (Powers Ferry). Misidentification was most common for densities near the BAV, and misidentification rates in the study were low despite fairly low model precisions because E. coli densities were infrequently near the BAV. The precisions of the models developed herein were comparable to the more complex models developed by Lawrence (2012) that were never implemented in the BacteriALERT program due to their computational complexity. The predictive E. coli models developed herein will improve the ability to assess the health risks of water-based recreational activities in the CRNRA in near real-time.

Publication Year 2020
Title Monitoring and real-time modeling of Escherichia coli bacteria for the Chattahoochee River, Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, Georgia, 2000–2019
DOI 10.3133/ofr20201048
Authors Brent T. Aulenbach, Anna M. McKee
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2020-1048
Index ID ofr20201048
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization South Atlantic Water Science Center