Indiana Water Monitoring Council 
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Indiana water-resource issues:  

Pathogens in Surface Water and Groundwater

In a recent assessment of our state’s water quality, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) reports that 21,389 river miles in Indiana are not supporting their designated use for “full body contact” (swimming) due to bacteria counts that could adversely affect the health of swimmers. Escherichia coli (E.coli) and fecal coliform bacteria are used as indicators of the presence of many types of organisms (pathogens) that are associated with fecal contamination from warm-blooded animals. Although they may not be directly harmful, E.coli and fecal coliform counts above state standards are associated with statistical increases in diseases such as skin, eye and ear infections for those who swim in the water. In addition, pathogens are sometimes a problem in drinking water, either from contaminated groundwater or from contaminated plumbing. More than 300 public water supplies had excessive pathogens in their drinking water on at least one sampling event in 2010. In addition to IDEM’s pathogen program, routine pathogen monitoring of water is done by all wastewater treatment plants and public drinking water supplies and by many watershed monitoring groups and at public beaches. Determining the source of pathogens in water is a difficult but important task. The measures taken to reduce pathogens will depend greatly on finding out where they are coming from. Potential sources include failing septic systems, livestock, pets, and wildlife. Genetic analysis of indicator organisms is one potential source-tracking method. Others potential source-tracking methods include antibiotic resistance analysis, coliphage typing, measuring microbial responses to various carbon sources, and measuring host-specific indicator species. Some scientists are also hoping to link bacteria with other indicators such as caffeine and optical brighteners. Currently, microbial source-tracking is still in the infancy stage of water quality monitoring in Indiana.

E-mail contact information for some InWMC water-resource professionals in Indiana focusing on pathogen monitoring:
  • Kris Kehoe (IDEM)
  • Meredith Nevers (USGS)
  • Ronald Turco (Purdue University)
  • Richard Whitman (Dunes National Lakeshore)
  • Greg Bright (Commonwealth Biomonitoring)

Related resources:

Indiana Department of Environmental Management, 2014, Indiana Integrated Water Monitoring and Assessment Report. Office of Water Quality, Nonpoint Source Branch, Indianapolis, IN, accessed April 25, 2014 at:

Indiana Department of Environmental Management, 2010, Annual Compliance Report for Indiana Public Water Supply Systems. Office of Water Quality, Drinking Water Branch, Indianapolis, IN, accessed April 25, 2014 at: files/annual_compliance_report_2010.pdf

Olyphant, Greg A., 2014, Developing a Prototypical Predictive Model for Beach Closings in Indiana. Center for Geospatial Data Analysis and Indiana Geological Survey Web article, accessed September 19, 2014 at:

U.S. EPA, 2005, Microbial Source Tracking Guide Document. EPA/600/R-05/064, National Risk Management Research Laboratory, Cincinnati, OH. 123 pp.

Whitman, R.L., M.B. Nevers, & M.N. Byappanahalli, 2006, Examination of the watershed-wide distribution of Escherichia coli along southern Lake Michigan: an integrated approach. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 72: 7301-7310.

This page written and maintained by Greg Bright of Commonwealth Biomonitoring.

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