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Using microbial source tracking to identify fecal contamination sources in Great South Bay on Long Island, New York

June 23, 2022

The U.S. Geological Survey worked in cooperation with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to assess the potential sources of fecal contamination entering a part of Great South Bay (referred to as Great South Bay for the purposes of this report) near the hamlets of West Sayville, Sayville, and Bayport on the southern shore of Suffolk County on Long Island, New York. Water samples are routinely collected by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in the bay and analyzed for fecal coliform bacteria, an indicator of fecal contamination, to determine the need for closure of shellfish beds for harvest and consumption. Fecal coliform and other bacteria are an indicator of the potential presence of pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria. However, indicator bacteria alone cannot determine the biological or geographical sources of contamination; therefore, microbial source tracking was implemented to determine various biological sources of contamination. In addition, information such as the location, weather and season, and surrounding land use where a sample was collected help determine the geographical source and conveyance of land-based water to the embayment. Analysis revealed that the most substantial source of fecal contamination to Great South Bay was discharge from sites draining ponds and wetlands into the tributaries sampled, Brown and Green Creeks, particularly during the summer months. Fecal coliform bacteria at sites where ponds and wetlands drain are increased by stormwater runoff, which is another substantial source of fecal contamination. Sites with high concentrations of fecal coliform bacteria in the summer exacerbated by stormwater include the Brown Creek Culvert at Middle Road, Mill Pond Culvert near South Street, and Green Creek Culvert near Montauk Highway sites. The canine Bacteroides (BacCan) marker was the most frequently detected microbial source tracking marker with 15 positive detections in surface water across the landscape, followed by the waterfowl Helicobacter (GFD) marker with 9 detections and the human Bacteroides (HF183) marker with 4 detections in surface water (excluding 2 detections in sediment). The ruminant Bacteroides (Rum2Bac) marker was not detected in any samples collected during this study. The detection frequency of BacCan was similar for all sampling conditions and seasons, suggesting canine influence is unrelated to weather events and is a year-round occurrence. BacCan was detected in 14 of 16 source samples and only 1 of 16 receptor samples, which suggests that canine fecal contamination is likely diluted in the bay. There was a similar amount of marker detections when comparing weather condition (wet or dry) and season (winter or summer), suggesting that fecal contamination was unrelated to weather events or time of year. Eight waterfowl marker detections were in samples collected during the winter, and only one during the summer, implicating seasonal avian fecal contamination throughout the embayment. The human marker was detected in only one surface-water receptor sample, during the wet winter sampling event at the Green Creek Mid-Bay site. Three of four human marker detections were in the samples collected during the wet winter sampling event, indicating that weather and season may influence the presence of human markers in Great South Bay, but human markers are not overly prevalent.

Publication Year 2022
Title Using microbial source tracking to identify fecal contamination sources in Great South Bay on Long Island, New York
DOI 10.3133/sir20225057
Authors Tristen N. Tagliaferri, Shawn C. Fisher, Christopher M. Kephart, Natalie Cheung, Ariel P. Reed, Robert J. Welk
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2022-5057
Index ID sir20225057
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New York Water Science Center