Water-Resources Investigations Report 01-4147

Occurrence and Distribution of Enteric Viruses in Shallow Ground Water and Factors Affecting Well Vulnerability to Microbiological Contamination in Worcester and Wicomico Counties, Maryland

By William S.L. Banks and Cheryl A. Klohe (U.S. Geological Survey), and David A. Battigelli (Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene)


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The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, conducted a study to characterize the occurrence and distribution of viral contamination in small (withdrawing less than 10,000 gallons per day) public water-supply wells screened in the water-table aquifer in the Coastal Plain in Worcester and Wicomico Counties, Maryland.

Two hundred seventy-eight well sites were evaluated with regard to simulated ground-water flow paths, land use, natural soils groups, and well characteristics, such as well depth and well age. Flow and transport simulations of the water-table aquifer indicated that wells screened less than about 50 feet below land surface (shallow wells) were most vulnerable to surface contamination, which in some cases could originate from as far as 2,000 feet upgradient of the well. Animal-feeding and agricultural-storage operations were considered among the most likely sources for viral contamination; therefore, sites close to these activities were considered most vulnerable. Soil groups were evaluated with regard to depth to water and moisture-holding capacity. Wells with shallow depths to water or in very sandy soils were considered more vulnerable to contamination than deep wells (greater than 50 feet) and those completed in finer-grained soils. Older wells and wells where coliform bacteria had been detected in the past were classified as highly vulnerable. On the basis of this evaluation, 27 sites considered to be susceptible were sampled.

Samples were collected by pumping up to 400 gallons of untreated well water through an electropositive filter. Water concentrates were subjected to cell-culture assay for the detection of culturable viruses and reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction/gene probe assays to detect nonculturable viruses; grab samples were analyzed for somatic and male-specific coliphages, Bacteroides fragilis, Clostridium perfringens, enterococci, Escherichia coli, total coliforms, total oxidized nitrogen, dissolved organic carbon, organic nitrogen, total phos-phate, orthophosphate, acid-neutralizing capacity, pH, specific conductance, temperature, and dissolved oxygen.

Eleven percent of the samples analyzed (3 of 27) tested positive for either culturable viruses or the presence of viral ribonucleic acid. Approximately 15 percent of the samples (4 of 27) tested positive for one or more bacterial contaminants.






Purpose and scope

Location and description of study area

Hydrogeologic setting

Land use

Ground-water use


Study design and methods

Target population

Ground-water flow

Site selection

Sample collection

Sample analysis

Quality control

Occurrence and distribution of viral contamination

Summary and conclusions

References cited

Appendix A: Microbiological and water-quality data for 30 public water-supply wells in Worcester

and Wicomico Counties, Maryland, March through September 1999

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For more information about USGS activities in Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia contact:


MD-DE-DC Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
Water Resources Discipline
8987 Yellow Brick Road
Baltimore, MD 21237
Telephone: (410) 238-4200
Fax: (410) 238-4210


or access the USGS Water Resources of Maryland, Delaware, and District of Columbia home page at:

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Persistent URL:
Page Contact Information: Contact USGS
Last modified: Thursday, September 01 2005, 02:21:16 PM
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