Concentrations of indicator bacteria such as fecal coliform (FC) and fecal streptococcus (FS) are often used to assess the suitability of waters for their intended use(s) and to allocate resources for water quality improvement measures. There is evidence, however, that concentrations of FC and FS can be influenced by variables such as season and flow rate during sampling, which could lead to biased results. The objective of this study was to assess the impacts of season and flow rate on concentrations of FC and FS. Fecal indicator bacteria concentrations were measured for approximately three years at five sites on two Northwest Arkansas streams. Flow data were collected at two of the five sites. Land use in the basins draining the streams was primarily pasture (57-90%) and forest (6-40%). Significant seasonal influences on FC and FS concentrations were detected for all sampling sites, with the highest concentrations occurring in summer. On the two sites with flow data, flow rate generally had a significant effect on FC and FS concentrations during all seasons, with FC and FS concentrations increasing with flow rate. Ratios of FC and FS, which have been used in the past to differentiate between animal and human sources of fecal pollution, did not appear to reliably indicate the major sources of fecal indicator bacteria. The findings of this study suggest a potential for fixed sampling intervals to contribute to biased results. The issue of biased results might be avoided by sampling during times of year and flow conditions that support the intended use(s) of the waters.

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Published in Transactions of the ASAE, v. 40, issue 1, p. 103-109.

© 1997 American Society of Agricultural Engineers

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The investigation reported in this article is part of a project of the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station (RIS 95-05-122) and is published with the approval of the Director of the Station as a contribution to Regional Research Project S-249.