Sources of Fecal Indicator Bacteria to Groundwater, Malibu Lagoon and the Near-Shore Ocean, Malibu, California, USA


  • John A. Izbicki U.S. Geological Survey
  • Peter W Swarzenski U.S. Geological Survey
  • Carmen A Burton U.S. Geological Survey
  • Laurie Van De Werfhorst University of California Santa Barbara
  • Patricia A. Holden University of California, Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, 2400 Bren Hall, Santa Barbara, CA 93206, USA
  • Eric A. Dubinsky Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Earth Science Division, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA


fecal indicator bacteria, microbial source tracking, surface water, groundwater, coastal water, wastewater indicators


Onsite wastewater treatment systems (OWTS) used to treat residential and commercial sewage near Malibu, California have been implicated as a possible source of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) to Malibu Lagoon and the near-shore ocean. For this to occur, treated wastewater must first move through groundwater before discharging to the Lagoon or ocean. In July 2009 and April 2010, δ18O and δD data showed that some samples from water-table wells contained as much as 70% wastewater; at that time FIB concentrations in those samples were generally less than the detection limit of 1 Most Probable Number (MPN) per 100 milliliters (mL). In contrast, Malibu Lagoon had total coliform, Escherichia coli, and enterococci concentrations as high as 650,000, 130,000, and 5,500 MPN per 100 mL, respectively, and as many as 12% of samples from nearby ocean beaches exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency single sample enterococci standard for marine recreational water of 104 MPN per 100 mL. Human-associated Bacteroidales, an indicator of human-fecal contamination, were not detected in water from wells, Malibu Lagoon, or the near-shore ocean. Similarly, microarray (PhyloChip) data show Bacteroidales and Fimicutes Operational Taxanomic Units (OTUs) present in OWTS were largely absent in groundwater; in contrast, 50% of Bacteroidales and Fimicutes OTUs present in the near-shore ocean were also present in gull feces. Terminal-Restriction Length Fragment Polymorphism (T-RFLP) and phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) data showed that microbial communities in groundwater were different and less abundant than communities in OWTS, Malibu Lagoon, or the near-shore ocean. However, organic compounds indicative of wastewater (such as fecal sterols, bisphenol-A and cosmetics) were present in groundwater having a high percentage of wastewater and were present in groundwater discharging to the ocean. FIB in the near-shore ocean varied with tides, ocean swells, and waves. Movement of water from Malibu Lagoon through the sand berm at the mouth of the Lagoon contributed FIB to the adjacent beach at low tide. Similar increases in FIB concentrations did not occur at beaches adjacent to unsewered residential development, although wastewater indicator compounds and radon-222 (indicative of groundwater discharge) were present. High FIB concentrations at high tide were not related to groundwater discharge, but may be related to FIB associated with debris accumulated along the high-tide line.

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How to Cite

Izbicki, J. A., Swarzenski, P. W., Burton, C. A., Van De Werfhorst, L., Holden, P. A., & Dubinsky, E. A. (2012). Sources of Fecal Indicator Bacteria to Groundwater, Malibu Lagoon and the Near-Shore Ocean, Malibu, California, USA. Annals of Environmental Science, 6. Retrieved from