What are Bacteria?
Bacteria are microscopic, unicellular organisms that divide through cell division. Thousands of different kinds of bacteria exist with varying functions and they are found in almost every type of environment.
Coliform bacteria are a collection of microorganisms that live in colonies in intestines of warm and cold-blooded organisms including humans that aid in the digestion of food. Fecal coliform bacteria are a subgroup of coliform bacteria that are distinguished from others by their ability to grow at elevated temperatures and are associated only with fecal material of warm-blooded animals.
Individually, fecal coliform bacteria are not necessarily harbingers of disease, but when found in large concentrations or colonies, they can be indicators of the presence of other disease causing microorganisms such as giardia or cryptosporidium .
The presence of fecal coliforms do indicate that there are feces from a warm-blooded contaminating the water. The more closely related the animal, the greater the chances are for infection if we come in contact with the bacteria either through ingestion or when swimming. Ingestion of other organisms who have accumulated the bacteria can also result in infection.
Fecal coliform counts may fluctuate in a given body of water, but they can actually settle out of a water column into the sediments on the bottom where the dark, moist conditions allow them to continue to multiply. When the sediments are stirred up, the bacteria can re-emerge in the water column.
E. coli is the most common form of fecal coliforms and although normally present in the digestive tract of humans and other mammals, contact with outside strains can lead to infection and serious illness.
Coliform bacteria : a collection of microorganisms that live in colonies in intestines of warm and cold-blooded organisms including humans that aid in the digestion of food
Fecal coliform bacteria : a subgroup of coliform bacteria that are distinguished from others by their ability to grow at elevated temperatures and are associated only with fecal material of warm-blooded animals
E. coli: Escherichia coli - The most common form of fecal coliforms; sources include feedlots, faulty septic systems, barnyards, pastures, rangelands, manure storage facilities, wildlife, waterfowl and pet feces.
What Are The Sources Of Bacteria?
Fecal coliform is related to animal feces, and one of the most easily identifiable sources of fecal coliform is pet waste. Just a few grams of pet waste can contain millions of coliform colonies. Bacteria from pet waste that is not properly disposed of can be washed into stormdrains or streams.
Animals of small farms, or hobby farms, are another source of bacteria that may contaminate our waterbodies. Feces from these animals (such as cows, pigs, horses, sheep, poultry, etc.) are not as easily disposed of as pet waste is. Therefore these farms must rely on a combination of practices to prevent bacteria from reaching a waterbody.
Human waste contains harmful bacteria as well. Failing septic systems or leaking sewer systems could potentially leak contaminated sewage into groundwater or into streams and lakes.
How Can You Prevent Bacteria From Entering Streams And The Lake?
Identifying the source of bacteria is the first step towards preventing bacteria from contaminating our waterbodies. Here are some simple tips you can follow to address bacteria concerns.
- Pet Waste Education, Programs, and Mutt-Mitt Stations are available to prevent pet waste from entering into streams and Lake Whatcom .
- On-Site Sewage Systems should be inspected and serviced on a regular schedule. The County Health Department provides education and services for on-site sewage systems.
- Hobby Farms can be a source of bacteria. Learn about ways to reduce the amount of bacteria produced by hobby farm animals from entering into our waterways.
- The presence of Urban Wildlife , such as geese, can be a potential source of bacteria. Learn about buffers and vegetation that can help reduce the amount of bacteria from entering into our waterways from urban wildlife.