Linking on-farm dairy management practices to storm-flow fecal coliform loading for California coastal watersheds

D. J. Lewis, Edward R Atwill, M. S. Lennox, L. Hou, B. Karle, K. W. Tate

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


How and where to improve water quality within an agricultural watershed requires data at a spatial scale that corresponds with individual management decision units on an agricultural operation. This is particularly true in the context of water quality regulations, such as Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs), that identify agriculture as one source of non-point source pollution through larger tributary watershed scale and above and below water quality investigations. We have conducted a systems approach study of 10 coastal dairies and ranches to document fecal coliform concentration and loading to surface waters at the management decision unit scale. Water quality samples were collected on a storm event basis from loading units that included: manure management systems; gutters; storm drains; pastures; and corrals and lots. In addition, in-stream samples were collected above and below the dairy facilities and from a control watershed, managed for light grazing and without a dairy facility or human residence and corresponding septic system. Samples were analyzed for fecal coliform concentration by membrane filtration. Instantaneous discharge was measured for each collected sample. Storm runoff was also calculated using the curve number method (SCS, 1985). Results for a representative dairy as well as the entire 10 dairy data set are presented. Fecal coliform concentrations demonstrate high variability both within and between loading units. Fecal coliform concentrations for pastures range from 206 to 2,288,888 cfu/100 ml and for lots from 1,933 to 166,105,000 cfu/100 ml. Mean concentrations for pastures and lots are 121,298 (SE=62,222) and 3,155,584 (SE=1,902,713) cfu/100 ml, respectively. Fecal coliform load from units of concentrated animals and manure are significantly more than units such as pastures while storm flow amounts were significantly less. Compared with results from earlier tributary scale studies in the watershed, this systems approach has generatedwater quality data that is beneficial for management decisions because of its scale and representation of current management activities. These results are facilitating on-farm changes through the cooperative efforts of dairy managers, regulatory agency staff, and sources of technical and financial assistance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)407-425
Number of pages19
JournalEnvironmental Monitoring and Assessment
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Aug 2005


  • Fecal coliform
  • Spatial scale
  • Systems approach
  • Water quality assessment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry


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