Spatiotemporal dynamics of Escherichia coli presence and magnitude across a national groundwater monitoring network, Republic of Ireland, 2011–2020 Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Groundwater is a vital drinking water resource and its protection from microbiological contamination is paramount to safeguard public health. The Republic of Ireland (RoI) is characterised by the highest incidence of verocytotoxigenic Escherichia coli (VTEC) enteritis in the European Union (EU), linked to high reliance on unregulated groundwater sources (~16% of the population). Yet, the spatio-temporal factors influencing the frequency and magnitude of microbial contamination remain largely unknown, with past studies typically constrained to spatio-temporally 'limited' sampling campaigns. Accordingly, the current investigation sought to analyse an extensive spatially distributed time-series (2011-2020) of groundwater monitoring data in the RoI. The dataset, compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), showed 'high' contamination rates, with 66.7% (88/132) of supplies testing positive for E. coli, and 29.5% (39/132) exceeding concentrations of 10MPN/100 ml (i.e. gross contamination) at least once during the 10-year monitoring period. Seasonal decomposition analyses indicate that E. coli detection rates peak during late autumn/early winter, coinciding with increases in annual rainfall, while gross contamination peaks in spring (May) and late-summer (August), likely reflecting seasonal shifts in agricultural practices. Mixed effects logistic regression modelling indicates that monitoring sources located in karst limestone are statistically associated with E. coli presence (OR = 2.76, p = 0.03) and gross contamination (OR = 2.54, p = 0.037) when compared to poorly productive aquifers (i.e., transmissivity below 10m2/d). Moreover, 5-day and 30-day antecedent rainfall increased the likelihood of E. coli contamination (OR = 1.027, p < 0.001 and OR = 1.005, p = 0.016, respectively), with the former also being associated with gross contamination (OR = 1.042, p < 0.001). As such, it is inferred that preferential flow and direct ingress of surface runoff are the most likely ingress mechanisms associated with E. coli groundwater supply contamination. The results presented are expected to inform policy change around groundwater source protection and provide insight for the development of groundwater monitoring programmes in geologically heterogeneous regions.


  • Andrade, Luisa
  • Boudou, Martin
  • Hynds, Paul
  • Chique, Carlos
  • Weatherill, John
  • O'Dwyer, Jean

publication date

  • September 2022