Chronic urban hotspots and agricultural drainage drive microbial pollution of karst water resources in rural developing regions



Buckerfield SJ, Quilliam RS, Bussiere L, Waldron S, Naylor LA, Li S & Oliver DM (2020) Chronic urban hotspots and agricultural drainage drive microbial pollution of karst water resources in rural developing regions. Science of The Total Environment, 744, Art. No.: 140898.

Contamination of surface and groundwater systems with human and animal faecal matter leads to exposure of reliant populations to disease causing micro-organisms. This exposure route remains a major cause of infection and mortality in developing countries, particularly rural regions. To meet the UN's sustainable development goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, we need to identify the key controls on faecal contamination across relevant settings. We conducted a high-resolution spatial study of E. coli concentration in catchment drainage waters over 6 months in a mixed land-use catchment in the extensive karst region extending across impoverished southwest China. Using a mixed effects modelling framework, we tested how land-use, karst hydrology, antecedent meteorological conditions, agricultural cycles, hydrochemistry, and position in the catchment system affected E. coli concentrations. Land-use was the best predictor of faecal contamination levels. Sites in urban areas were chronically highly contaminated, but water draining from agricultural land was also consistently contaminated and there was a catchment wide pulse of higher E. coli concentrations, turbidity, and discharge during paddy field drainage. E. coli concentration increased with increasing antecedent rainfall across all land-use types and compartments of the karst hydrological system (underground and surface waters), but decreased with increasing pH. This is interpreted to be a result of processes affecting pH, such as water residence time, rather than the direct effect of pH on E. coli survival. Improved containment and treatment of human waste in areas of higher population density would likely reduce contamination hotspots, and further research is needed to identify the nature and distribution of sources in agricultural land.

Drinking water quality; Faecal contamination; Spatiotemporal controls; Karst water resources; Rural developing regions; Mixed-effects modelling

Science of The Total Environment: Volume 744

FundersNatural Environment Research Council, Chinese Academy of Sciences and National Natural Science Foundation of China
Publication date20/11/2020
Publication date online16/07/2020
Date accepted by journal09/07/2020
PublisherElsevier BV

People (2)


Dr David Oliver
Dr David Oliver

Associate Professor, Biological and Environmental Sciences

Professor Richard Quilliam
Professor Richard Quilliam

Professor, Biological and Environmental Sciences