Seasonal variation in accurate identification of Escherichia coli within a constructed wetland receiving tertiary-treated municipal effluent

Jean E.T. McLain, Clinton F. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


As the reuse of municipal wastewater escalates worldwide as a means to extend increasingly limited water supplies, accurate monitoring of water quality parameters, including Escherichia coli (E. coli), increases in importance. Chromogenic media are often used for detection of E. coli in environmental samples, but the presence of unique levels of organic and inorganic compounds alters reclaimed water chemistry, potentially hindering E. coli detection using enzyme-based chromogenic technology. Over seven months, we monitored E. coli levels using m-Coli Blue 24® broth in a constructed wetland filled with tertiary-treated municipal effluent. No E. coli were isolated in the wetland source waters, but E. coli, total coliforms, and heterotrophic bacteria increased dramatically within the wetland on all sampling dates, most probably due to fecal inputs from resident wildlife populations. Confirmatory testing of isolates presumptive for E. coli revealed a 41% rate of false-positive identification using m-Coli Blue 24® broth over seven months. Seasonal differences were evident, as false-positive rates averaged 35% in summer, but rose sharply to 75% in the late fall and winter. Corrected E. coli levels were significantly correlated with electrical conductivity, indicating that water chemistry may be controlling bacterial survival within the wetland. This is the first study to report that accuracy of chromogenic media for microbial enumeration in reclaimed water may show strong seasonal differences, and highlights the importance of validation of microbiological results from chromogenic media for accurate analysis of reclaimed water quality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4041-4048
Number of pages8
JournalWater research
Issue number15
StatePublished - Sep 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Coliforms
  • E. coli
  • Wastewater
  • m-Coli Blue 24

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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