The removal of E. coli from overland flow under saturation-excess runoff conditions was investigated in experimental field plots that were 1 m wide and 5 m long. Variation in the attenuation of bacteria and distance transported was quantified under contrasting flow conditions. In addition, the impact of soil tillage upon microbial attenuation was examined by comparing results derived from grassed plots (intact) with those subject to tillage with the soil left bare (cultivated). For intact plots subjected to a flow of 2 L/min, 27% of the E. coli in the flow was removed after 5 m with removal following a logarithmic function with respect to distance. For the higher flow rates of 6 L/min and 20 L/min, no attenuation trend was observed over this distance. E. coli removal during flow across the cultivated plots was significantly greater compared to the intact plots. This was attributed to a greater infiltration rate in the cultivated plots (due to the tillage) which promoted a greater volume of flow to pass through the soil matrix, providing the opportunity for filtration and adsorption of microbes. Logarithmic trends with respect to distance were observed for all flow rates tested on the cultivated plots (2, 6 and 20 L/min). Total removal after 5 m at a flow rate of 2 L/min was 41% and again removal efficiency decreased as the flow rate increased. Analysis of the transported state of the E. coli revealed that the bacteria were being transported predominantly in particles less than 20 μm in diameter and were not attached to large (dense) soil particles. The limited removal (<50%) of bacteria from overland flow under saturation-excess runoff conditions in these experiments appeared, therefore, to be primarily due to a lack of settling or deposition. Instead, most bacteria remained entrained within the overland flow down the length of the plots.

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