Modelling the seasonal impacts of a wastewater treatment plant on water quality in a Mediterranean stream using microbial indicators

Pascual-Benito, M.Nadal-Sala, DanielTobella, M.Ballesté, E.García-Aljaro, CristinaSabaté, SantiSabater, FrancescMartí, Eugènia Gracia, Carles A.Blanch, A. R.Lucena, Francisco.  Journal of Environmental Management 261(1) : 110220 (2020)  DIGITAL  CSIC

Faecal pollution modelling is a valuable tool to evaluate and improve water management strategies, especially in a context of water scarcity. The reduction dynamics of five faecal indicator organisms (E. coli, spores of sulphite-reducing clostridia, somatic coliphages, GA17 bacteriophages and a human-specific Bifidobacterium molecular marker) were assessed in an intermittent Mediterranean stream affected by a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). Using Bayesian inverse modelling, the decay rates of each indicator were correlated with two environmental drivers (temperature and streamflow downstream of the WWTP) and the generated model was used to evaluate the self-depuration distance (SDD) of the stream. A consistent increase of 1–2 log10 in the concentration of all indicators was detected after the discharge of the WWTP effluent. The decay rates showed seasonal variation, reaching a maximum in the dry season, when SDDs were also shorter and the stream had a higher capacity to self-depurate. High seasonality was observed for all faecal indicators except for the spores of sulphite-reducing clostridia. The maximum SDD ranged from 3 km for the spores of sulphite-reducing clostridia during the dry season and 15 km for the human-specific Bifidobacterium molecular marker during the wet season. The SDD provides a single standardized metric that integrates and compares different contamination indicators. It could be extended to other Mediterranean drainage basins and has the potential to integrate changes in land use and catchment water balance, a feature that will be especially useful in the transient climate conditions expected in the coming years.