Most bacteria are harmless or beneficial. However, there are several forms of pathogenic bacteria that will cause sickness, disease and possibly even death. Pathogenic bacteria contamination of water bodies is a growing concern throughout the world. Freshwater supplies are under attack from stormwater runoff, leaking septic tanks, untreated or partially treated wastewater and neglect.
We hear about beach closures due to coliform and fecal bacteria. We hear about restaurant food with pathogenic bacteria concerns, which leads to speculation that irrigation water is potentially contaminated. We hear about storms causing overflows in water treatment systems. It is no wonder concerns about bacteria in water are at an all-time high.
Bacteria can infect people if they are swallowed, inhaled, or come in contact with an open wound. Infections from bacteria can affect the ears, eyes, brain, skin, bowel, throat and lungs. Numerous studies have found that the levels of bacteria in the water are much lower than the levels in the sediments on the bottom of the water body. Then as recreational activities such as swimming, water skiing, and boating stir up the organic sediments on the bottom, bacteria levels in the water can actually increase. Of course, major storms and groundwater runoff can also increase bacteria levels very quickly in a water body.