Precipitation thresholds for fecal bacterial indicators in the Chesapeake Bay
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Precipitation thresholds for fecal bacterial indicators in the Chesapeake Bay

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  • Journal Title:
    Water Research
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  • Description:
    Many coastal states of the United States restrict harvest of shellfish from select areas based on some environmental trigger. Such areas are classified as being conditionally approved. In Maryland, the trigger is an inch or more of rainfall that has fallen in the last 24 h. This study used 11 years of monitoring data to test the relationship between daily rainfall totals and densities of fecal indicators in Maryland shellfish harvest waters. Precipitation and fecal coliform (FC) water monitoring data from 2004 to 2014 were matched by date and watershed. The influence of antecedent rainfall conditions (i.e. rainfall in the preceding days or weeks) and the distance of each monitoring station to land were compared to the percent of samples exceeding the FDA criterion for managing shellfish harvest areas. Sample stations beyond 1000m from land had FC densities consistently below the FDA criterion and were excluded from further analysis. Rainfall events greater than an inch tended to result in significantly elevated FC for the following two days, followed by lower levels thereafter. The total amount of rain in the last three weeks was positively related to the proportion of samples with FC greater than the FDA criterion. Bay-wide, the percent of samples exceeding the FDA criterion rose from seven percent for rainfall less than an inch to 37% following one or more inches of rain. Watersheds were classified based on the percent of FC densities over the criterion when rainfall was an inch or more, with 41 of 81 watersheds showing FC responses indicative of potential conditionally approved areas, those shellfish growing areas where the one inch precipitation trigger may be applied. These areas largely overlapped the current conditionally approved areas defined by Maryland. The percent of open water, wetlands, and poorly drained soils explained a significant amount of the variability (R2 = 0.72) in the difference in percent of samples exceeding the FDA criterion when rainfall was greater than an inch and when it was less than an inch. Logistic regression analysis showed that the current trigger of one inch of rain in 24 h is predictive of FC densities over the FDA criterion, though the appropriate threshold will most likely depend on how far the particular shellfish growing area is from land and antecedent rain conditions. In watersheds with relatively high percentages of open water to total watershed size, higher rainfall thresholds might be appropriate. The approach taken in this study could be applied to individual stations and sub-watersheds, potentially allowing the reclassification of some shellfish harvest areas.
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    Water Research, 139: 252-262
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    Accepted Manuscript
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    CHORUS
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