Pathogenic bacteria and microbial-source tracking markers in Brandywine Creek Basin, Pennsylvania and Delaware, 2009-10

Scientific Investigations Report 2011-5164
Prepared in cooperation with the City of Wilmington, Delaware
By: , and 



The City of Wilmington, Delaware, is in the downstream part of the Brandywine Creek Basin, on the main stem of Brandywine Creek. Wilmington uses this stream, which drains a mixed-land-use area upstream, for its main drinking-water supply. Because the stream is used for drinking water, Wilmington is in need of information about the occurrence and distribution of specific fecally derived pathogenic bacteria (disease-causing bacteria) and their relations to commonly measured fecal-indicator bacteria (FIB), as well as information regarding the potential sources of the fecal pollution and pathogens in the basin. This study focused on five routinely sampled sites within the basin, one each on the West Branch and the East Branch of Brandywine Creek and at three on the main stem below the confluence of the West and East Branches. These sites were sampled monthly for 1 year. Targeted event samples were collected on two occasions during high flow and two occasions during normal flow. On the basis of this study, high flows in the Brandywine Creek Basin were related to increases in FIB densities, and in the frequency of selected pathogen and source markers, in the West Branch and main stem of Brandywine Creek, but not in the East Branch. Water exceeding the moderate fullbody-contact single-sample recreational water-quality criteria (RWQC) for Escherichia coli (E. coli) was more likely to contain selected markers for pathogenic E. coli (eaeA,stx1, and rfbO157 gene markers) and bovine fecal sources (E. hirae and LTIIa gene markers), whereas samples exceeding the enterococci RWQC were more likely to contain the same pathogenic markers but also were more likely to carry a marker indicative of human source (esp gene marker). On four sample dates, during high flow between October and March, the West Branch was the only observed potential contributor of selected pathogen and bovine source markers to the main stem of Brandywine Creek. Indeed, the stx2 marker, which indicates a highly virulent type of pathogenic E. coli, was found only in the West Branch and main stem at high flow but was not found in the East Branch under similar conditions. However, it must be noted that throughout the entire year of sampling there were occasions, during both high and normal flows, when both the East and West Branches were potential contributors of pathogen and microbial-source tracking markers to the main stem. Therefore, this study indicates that under selected conditions (high flow, October through March), West Branch Brandywine Creek Basin was the most likely source of elevated FIB densities in the main stem. These elevated densities are associated with more frequent detection of selected pathogenic E. coli markers (rfbO157 stx1) and are associated with MST markers of bovine source. However, during other times of the year, both the West Branch and East Branch Basins are acting as potential sources of FIB and fecally derived pathogens.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Pathogenic bacteria and microbial-source tracking markers in Brandywine Creek Basin, Pennsylvania and Delaware, 2009-10
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2011-5164
DOI 10.3133/sir20115164
Year Published 2011
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Michigan Water Science Center, Toxic Substances Hydrology Program
Description vi, 22 p.
Country United States
State Pennsylvania, Delaware
Other Geospatial Brandywine Creek Basin
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details