But collecting water samples is only half the project, Wolfe said. Without an E. coli library to compare the water samples, identifying the source of the contamination would be impossible. So in addition to taking water samples, their goal is to collect at least 100 known-sources fecal samples within each watershed.
"We are focusing on human, feral hog and cattle sources," Wolfe said. "Feral hogs are a potentially big contributor, but other wildlife sources, including small mammal and avian species will be collected as well."
Tony Owen, Texas AgriLife Research associate, collects a wastewater sample from the City of Lampasas processing plant in the spring. (Texas AgriLife Research photo by Dr. June Wolfe)
Sometimes their "poop-scooping" draws attention, Wolfe noted, as they are also interested in cataloging fecal samples from pets, a task that takes them into local city parks and other public areas.
At other times, the sampling has called for ingenuity. For example, to collect avian fecal samples, they draped large sheets of plastic under local bridges to catch droppings from birds roosting over the waterways.
As the fecal samples are collected, and the DNA fingerprinting completed by Di Giovanni, the results are included in the Texas E. coli bacterial source tracking library.
Wolfe said the development of the Lampasas River and Leon Rivers water protection plans are to proceed independent of his bacterial source tracking project.
"However, conclusions from this BST project will be integrated into the water protection plan through adaptive management," he said.
One issue the team has had to face this year is the drying up of rivers and streams because of the drought, Wolfe noted.
"The results will still be valid because droughts are
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Texas A&M AgriLife Communications