The City of Vernon is challenged by degradation of its urban streams resulting from fecal contamination of surface water used for drinking and recreation. Existing standard testing practices, such as basic count for E. coli – an indicator for presence of enteric pathogens – have limitations in establishing baseline conditions for water quality. To this end, novel genomics based tools are promising towards effective water quality management to mitigate both, concerns for public health due to waterborne diseases and the associated economic burden.
To implement such a tool, the City is partnering with Dr. Asit Mazumder at the University of Victoria (UVic). The team will utilize Dr. Mazumder’s expertise in genetic fingerprinting for detection of animal sources of E. coli in two urban streams – Vernon creek and BX creek. Using a highly discriminatory yet economical Rep-PCR DNA fingerprinting technique, a standard operating procedure will be developed for interpreting genomic data from water samples to determine level and sources of E. coli contamination. The project will also deliver a database which will map urban, agricultural and wildlife sources of bacterial indicator pollution in Vernon, including fingerprints for baseline water quality in the two urban creeks during various weather conditions and fecal pollution levels/sources. Associated Environmental, experts on stream hydrology and water quality, will complete field work, provide context with appropriate metadata and deliver effective monitoring tools; whereas, Dr. Natalie Prystajecky from the BC Centre for Disease Control will help as an external advisor, linking fecal pollution to its specific source in contaminated watersheds.
The outcomes of the project will inform the City about land uses, effectiveness of storm water infrastructure, and help prioritize resources for appropriate location-based mitigations to improve urban stream health. The long term objective of the project is to create a genomics based framework that can be shared with other jurisdictions in their own areas.