Predicting Fecal Indicator Bacteria Using Spatial Stream Network Models in A Mixed-Land-Use Suburban Watershed in New Jersey, USA

Tsung Ta David Hsu, Danlin Yu, Meiyin Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Good water quality safeguards public health and provides economic benefits through recreational opportunities for people in urban and suburban environments. However, expanding impervious areas and poorly managed sanitary infrastructures result in elevated concentrations of fecal indicator bacteria and waterborne pathogens in adjacent waterways and increased waterborne illness risk. Watershed characteristics, such as urban land, are often associated with impaired microbial water quality. Within the proximity of the New York–New Jersey–Pennsylvania metropolitan area, the Musconetcong River has been listed in the Clean Water Act’s 303 (d) List of Water Quality-Limited Waters due to high concentrations of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB). In this study, we aimed to apply spatial stream network (SSN) models to associate key land use variables with E. coli as an FIB in the suburban mixed-land-use Musconetcong River watershed in the northwestern New Jersey. The SSN models explicitly account for spatial autocorrelation in stream networks and have been widely utilized to identify watershed attributes linked to deteriorated water quality indicators. Surface water samples were collected from the five mainstem and six tributary sites along the middle section of the Musconetcong River from May to October 2018. The log10 geometric means of E. coli concentrations for all sampling dates and during storm events were derived as response variables for the SSN modeling, respectively. A nonspatial model based on an ordinary least square regression and two spatial models based on Euclidean and stream distance were constructed to incorporate four upstream watershed attributes as explanatory variables, including urban, pasture, forest, and wetland. The results indicate that upstream urban land was positively and significantly associated with the log10 geometric mean concentrations of E. coli for all sampling cases and during storm events, respectively (p < 0.05). Prediction of E. coli concentrations by SSN models identified potential hot spots prone to water quality deterioration. The results emphasize that anthropogenic sources were the main threats to microbial water quality in the suburban Musconetcong River watershed. The SSN modeling approaches from this study can serve as a novel microbial water quality modeling framework for other watersheds to identify key land use stressors to guide future urban and suburban water quality restoration directions in the USA and beyond.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4743
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 2023


  • fecal indicator bacteria
  • land use
  • microbial water quality modeling
  • spatial autocorrelation
  • spatial stream network models
  • urban and suburban water quality


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