Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Using microbial source tracking to identify fecal contamination sources in Patchogue and Bellport Bays on Long Island, New York

March 30, 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 Patchogue and Bellport Bays, two embayments on the south shore of Suffolk County, Long Island, New York. Water samples are routinely collected by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in the bays 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 Patchogue and Bellport Bays was discharge from sites draining ponds and wetlands into the rivers and tributaries sampled, 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. Overall, canine- and waterfowl-associated bacterial contributions were prevalent in source samples in both bays. Human-associated markers were present in surface-water source samples and completely absent in receptor samples in Patchogue Bay. The Fireplace Neck receptor site in Bellport Bay had a human-associated marker present in the summer wet sample only. Human markers were detected at the sample site downstream from the Patchogue wastewater treatment plant but were associated with low fecal coliform concentrations, indicating that the wastewater treatment plant is not a likely source of fecal contamination to Patchogue Bay. The lack of human-associated marker detections within Patchogue and Bellport Bays in summer source samples coupled with low to no detections of fecal coliform, especially where small marinas are present in creeks and tributaries, suggest that boats do not substantially contribute fecal coliform bacteria to the bays. There was little evidence of groundwater-contributing fecal bacteria by direct discharge from the subsurface. Further, the sandy sediment alongside Patchogue and Bellport Bays is unlikely to contribute fecal coliform bacteria from the test host organisms when resuspended in the water column. A classification scheme was developed to convey the degree of fecal contamination to stakeholders and resource managers. Based on this classification scheme, the Corey Creek Near Middle Road, Patchogue River Near Division Street, and Swan River Mouth sampling sites were identified as locations that contribute substantial fecal contamination to Patchogue Bay. In Bellport Bay, the Culvert at Beaverdam Creek site was identified as the location contributing the most substantial fecal contamination.