We investigated the effectiveness of Escherichia coli community fingerprinting for identifying fecal pollution sources impacting a recreational beach. E. coli in water collected from the beach, nearby creek and storm sewer outfall were enumerated using membrane filtration, while E. coli communities were characterized following polymerase chain reaction analysis and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) fingerprinting. Analysis of E. coli densities to determine the contributions of the creek and storm sewer during dry weather was inconclusive. However, DGGE fingerprinting indicated that the creek E. coli communities had a greater impact on the beach community composition (80–95% similarity), than on storm sewer communities (41–64%). Following rainfall events, E. coli communities in the creek were at least 93% similar to those at the beach, while the similarity of the outfall and beach communities varied from 72 to 96%. Furthermore, E. coli communities at the beach were more similar to creek communities than to storm sewer communities after the first 2 h and 48 h following the onset of rainfall, and of comparable similarity following 24 h of rainfall, suggesting transient contributions from the storm sewer. DGGE analysis of E. coli communities provided evidence that the creek was a consistent source of E. coli to the beach, while the storm sewer was a transient source.

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