Fecal loading to beach sands and subsequent transport to surface water may result in the degradation of surface water quality. To better understand the relationship between Escherichia coli in sands, beach hydrology, and recreational water quality, we collected surface water, groundwater, and sand samples from three Lake Michigan beaches with varying substrates (fine sand to pebbles, July 2005—June 2006). Sediment cores collected within transects perpendicular to and at fixed distances from the shoreline (0 m, 10 m, 20 m) and surface water samples collected at a depth of 1 m were analyzed for E. coli. Grain size analysis was performed on duplicate core samples to assess the relationship between E. coli density and mean grain size and uniformity. Groundwater samples, collected from shallow drive-point piezometers within the test area, were also analyzed for E. coli. E. coli density in beach sands differed significantly with distance from shore with the highest density occurring at the berm crest (0 m). Mean grain size and uniformity accounted for variation in E. coli density with fine sand of uniform distribution having the highest content. E. coli density in surface water was correlated to E. coli density in beach sand samples at the berm crest. E. coli in groundwater was <10 to 579 MPN/100 ml (2005); none was detected in 2006. Management interventions, including altered beach grooming practices and slope assessments, may be effective in reducing E. coli content at beaches comprised of fine sands of uniform grain size, hence reducing water quality advisories.
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Vol. 36 • No. 4