Monitoring bacterial indicators of water quality in a tidally influenced delta: A Sisyphean pursuit

Melissa L. Partyka, Ronald F. Bond, Jennifer A. Chase, Edward R. Atwill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary (Delta) is the confluence of two major watersheds draining the Western Sierra Nevada mountains into the Central Valley of California, ultimately terminating into San Francisco Bay. We sampled 88 sites once a month for two years (2006–2008) over 87 separate sampling events for a total of 1740 samples. Water samples were analyzed for fecal indicator bacteria (Escherichia coli, enterococci and fecal coliforms), and 53 other physiochemical, land use, and environmental characteristics. The purpose of the study was to create a baseline of microbial water quality in the Delta and to identify various factors (climatic, land use, tidal, etc.) that were associated with elevated concentrations of indicator bacteria. Fecal indicator bacteria generally had weak to modest relationships to environmental conditions; the strength and direction of which varied for each microbial indicator, drainage region, and across seasons. Measured and unmeasured, site-specific effects accounted for large portions of variance in model predictions (ρ = 0.086 to 0.255), indicating that spatial autocorrelation was a major component of water quality outcomes. The effects of tidal cycling and lack of connectivity between waterways and surrounding landscapes likely contributed to the lack of association between local land uses and microbial outcomes, though weak associations may also be indicative of mismatched spatiotemporal scales. The complex nature of this system necessitates continued monitoring and regular updates to statistical models designed to predict microbial water quality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)346-356
Number of pages11
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Fecal indicator bacteria
  • Multiple linear regression
  • Non-point source
  • Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta
  • Spatio-temporal scale
  • Water quality monitoring

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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