Fecal bacteria in agricultural waters of the bluegrass region of Kentucky

J. M. Howell, M. S. Coyne, P. Cornelius

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


Agricultural runoff influenced by nonpoint pollution frequently exceeds the USEPA standards for bacterial contamination of primary contact water (200 fecal coliforms/100 mL). Few studies have evaluated the effect of cattle (Bos taurus) grazing on fecal contamination of groundwater in the karst topography of central Kentucky. Our objectives were to: (i) observe the extent and pattern of fecal bacteria in agricultural waters from two central Kentucky watersheds; (ii) determine if monthly sampling accurately assessed the extent and variability of fecal contamination; and (iii) assess the fecal coliform/fecal streptococci ratio (FC/FS) as an indicator of fecal bacteria source. Springs, streams, and wells in two agricultural watersheds typical of central Kentucky were monitored for fecal coliform and fecal streptococci from December 1991 to January 1993. Springs and wells exceeded primary contact water standards, between 28 and 74% of the time; streams exceeded water quality standards between 87 and 100% of the time. When fecal bacteria were present, rainfall rapidly moved them from the soil surface into spring and well water. At two springs in Fleming county, only 29% of samples exceeded primary contact standards before cattle were present; 80% exceeded standards after cattle began grazing the surrounding pasture. Monthly sampling adequately reflected the extent of fecal contamination in our study, which had relatively continuous cattle grazing. Although the FC/FS ratio identified domestic animal contamination sources, it did not distinguish between domestic animal and human sources of contamination.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)411-419
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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