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Spatial and temporal distribution of bacterial indicators and microbial-source tracking within Tumacácori National Historical Park and the upper Santa Cruz River, southern Arizona and northern Mexico, 2015–2016

October 15, 2019

Tumacácori National Historical Park (TUMA) in southern Arizona protects the culturally important Mission San José de Tumacácori, while also managing a part of the ecologically diverse riparian corridor of the Santa Cruz River. The quality of the water flowing through depends solely on upstream watershed activities, and among the water-quality issues concerning TUMA is the microbiological pathogens in the river introduced by human and animal sources that pose a significant human health risk to employees and visitors. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) conducted a 3-year study to understand the sources, timing, and distribution of the fecal-indicator bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli) within TUMA and the upstream watershed.

The information provided in this investigation is a result of a comprehensive approach to quantify the spatial and temporal variability of E. coli and suspended sediment in the Upper Santa Cruz River Watershed. Several types of flow were sampled from base flow to flood flow and at high frequency intervals (rise, peak, and recession) to determine daily variability, as well as seasonal variability. Hydrologic data collection and estimation techniques were used to establish a hydrologic relation with E. coli and suspended sediment. Furthermore, source tracking was used to describe the potential sources of E. coli. Models were developed that are expected to be useful for predicting E. coli concentrations to help TUMA managers understand instantaneous conditions to keep the public and staff informed about potentially harmful water-quality conditions. In addition, the concentration, flux, and source information will provide more accurate data for other surface-water modeling and can be useful in the development of total maximum daily load standards. This will help TUMA describe the water-quality conditions at the park and waters flowing through the park, as well as prioritize and help carry out future best-management actions to address these issues.