Bacterial Source Tracking in the Vernon River Watershed
Feldner, Ronald A.
Frischer, Marc E.
Richardson, Joseph P.
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The Vernon River basin drains 16,000 acres of densely populated, urbanized area that includes portions of the City of Savannah and Chatham County and all of the City of Vernonburg. The upper reaches of the basin are comprised of several urban storm water drainage canals, including Casey Canal, which discharge into Hayners Creek, one of many small feeder creeks draining to the Vernon River. Hayners Creek and Casey Canal are listed on Georgia’s 303(d) list as not supporting their designated Fishing classification due to fecal coliform, dissolved oxygen, and fish consumption guideline water quality criteria. Conventional methods to determine the source of fecal coliform bacteria have been unsuccessful to date. Stakeholders within the Vernon River Watershed, including the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, the cities of Savannah and Vernonburg, the Chatham County Heath Department, and Integrated Science & Engineering, Inc, understand that is critically important to identify the sources of fecal contamination in order to develop a workable management plan to eliminate the identified sources. Through Georgia Environmental Protection Division 319 grant funding assistance, the Vernon River Stakeholders’ Project Team will utilize Assessing Multiple Antibiotic Resistance (MAR) and Ribosomal RNA (rRNA) Fingerprinting to track and identify the source of bacterial contamination in the Vernon River basin. This project will also evaluate viral tagging of fecal bacteria in septic systems as an effective indicator of septic functionality. Once the source(s) of fecal contamination are identified through the bacterial source tracking program, the Project Team will develop best management practices to address and eliminate those identified sources. Once established, these BMPs will likely be incorporated into the future TMDL Implementation Plan for the Vernon River basin. Because this basin is typical of coastal communities in the region, the BMPs developed through this project will likely be applicable on a regional scale.