Using new technology scientists believe they will be able to track the source of bacterial contamination in the North Bosque and Leon Rivers to the source, even to the exact cow if that is the case. At least that’s the goal behind this group effort.

The group is made up of specialists from the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board, the Texas Water Resources Institute, the Texas Farm Bureau, the Waco-based Brazos River Authority, the city of Waco and the Texas A&M University System. The group received an $800,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help cover the cost of the project.

Researchers plan to use genetic fingerprinting to create a catalog of information on bacterial contamination in the rivers, to determine the host specie(s) of the E.coli involved, and pinpoint problem areas where contamination is entering the watershed.

Ned Meister, commodity and regulatory activities director of the Waco-based Farm Bureau, said the community is concerned about E. coli in the watershed. Many have pointed fingers at the dairies located upstream along the North Bosque and Leon watersheds as the cause, but Farm Bureau would like to help determine the definitive cause of the bacteria’s origin.

"We feel like it's the right thing to do," Meister told the Waco Tribune-Herald. "We know there is E. coli in the river. We just need to find out where it's coming from."

In addition to testing the water, samples will be collected from animal droppings, from streams around wastewater treatment plants, septic systems and waste lagoons. By using the genetic fingerprinting method, the scientists will be able to determine the source of the contamination, and given enough time could trace it back to the exact cow if they were found to be the culprit.

The goal of the program is to identify problem areas and develop plans to prevent further pollution. In addition, the project will build a library of genetically fingerprinted E. coli and information on antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.

Both the North Bosque and Leon watersheds are on the state of Texas’ list of polluted water bodies for excessive bacteria. Additionally, the North Bosque above Lake Waco and portions of the Leon are polluted with excessive phosphorus.

Waco Tribune-Herald