In situ measurement and statistical modelling of Escherichia coli decay in small rivers

P. Beaudeau, N. Tousset, F. Bruchon, A. Lefevre, Huw Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Numerous studies have been carried out on the environmental factors associated with the decay of faecal bacteria in open (fresh or marine) waters. The present study aimed at understanding the fate of bacteria in small streams (flow <20 m3 s(-1)) for which there is a lack of knowledge. An original in situ protocol was developed for measuring the die-off of Escherichia coli (E. coli) from wastewater treatment plants. Based upon 80 values of the decay first-order parameter (K or its inverse T90), collected from five rivers in Normandy (France), a median T90 of 10 h and a minimal T90 of 1.3 h were obtained. K was then modelled as a linear function of variables made up from flow, water temperature and suspended particulate matter (SPM). The set of significant co-variables did not include light indicators. E. coli decay is inversely related to the river flow and it becomes highly significant below 0.3 m3 s(-1). The positive effect of small flows on die-off is increased by water temperature over 15 degrees C, whereas it could be reduced by SPM. The major co-variable of the model (p < 10(-9)) is an empiric composite variable integrating the effect of flow and temperature that explains more than 40% of the variance of K. We interpreted this as an expression of predation by benthic micro-grazers which could be the main cause of E. coli die-off in small streams in temperate countries.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3168-3178
Number of pages11
JournalWater Research
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2001


  • Escherichia coli
  • rivers
  • decay model
  • flow
  • temperature
  • SPM


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