Evaluation of microbiological and physico–chemical quality of water from aquifers in the North West Province, South Africa
Carstens, Alewyn Johannes
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Contamination of groundwater that is suitable for drinking is of growing concern as the water supply of South Africa is becoming increasingly limited. This is especially the case in the North West province, with its semi – arid climate and variable rainfall patterns. The aim of the study was to evaluate the microbiological and physico – chemical qualities of groundwater obtained from selected DWA (Department of Water Affairs) monitoring boreholes in the Mooi River and Harts River catchment areas. Physico -chemical parameters included temperature, pH, electrical conductivity (EC), salinity, total dissolved solids (TDS), sulphate and nitrate concentrations. Physical parameters were measured using a calibrated submerge-able multimeter and chemical parameters using specialised kits and a spectrophotometer. Microbiological parameters included heterotrophic plate counts and total and faecal coliform enumeration. Membrane filtration and culture based methods were followed for enumeration of bacteria. During the identification procedures multiplex PCR for E. coli identification and 16S rRNA gene sequencing for identification of heterotrophic plate count bacteria and amoeba resistant bacteria were used. For antibiotic resistance, the Kirby- Bauer (1996) disk diffusion method was used. During the warm and wet season high electrical conductivity and salinity were observed in the Trimpark (65.3 mS/m; 325 ppm), School (125.1 mS/m; 644 ppm), Warrenton (166.9 mS/m; 867 ppm) and Ganspan (83.3 mS/m; 421 ppm) boreholes. Warrenton borehole had a high sulphate level (450 mg/l) as well. High chemical oxygen demand was observed in the Blaauwbank (62 mg/l) and Warrenton (98.5 mg/l) boreholes. In the dry and cold season similar observations were made for the various boreholes. Electrical conductivity and salinity levels remained high for the Trimpark (70.1 mS/m; 427.5 ppm), School (127 mS/m; 645 ppm), Warrenton (173.3 mS/m; 896.5 ppm) and Ganspan (88.1 mS/m; 444.5 ppm) boreholes. Nitrate levels for the Trimpark (14.1 mg/l) and School (137 mg/l), as well as sulphate levels for the Warrenton (325 mg/l) borehole were also high. Total coliforms, faecal streptococci and HPC bacteria were enumerated from water samples from all boreholes, except Blaauwbank where no faecal streptococci were enumerated. Faecal coliforms were enumerated from 5 of the possible 7 boreholes during a warm and wet season (Trimpark – 42 cfu/100ml; School – 2 cfu/100ml; Cemetery – 175 cfu/100ml; Warrenton – 3.84 x 10³ cfu/100ml; Ganspan – 1.9 x 10³ cfu/100ml). Indicator bacteria (FC, TC, HPC) exceeded target water quality ranges (TWQR) for drinking water in each case. During the cold and dry sampling season, faecal coliforms were enumerated mainly from the Trimpark (11 cfu/100ml) borehole. Total coliforms, faecal streptococci and HPC bacteria were enumerated from all the boreholes, except for Blaauwbank that contained no faecal streptococci or total coliforms. Enumerated indicator bacteria levels again exceeded TWQR for domestic use. Total coliform counts for the Pad dam borehole, however, complied with TWQR for domestic use. Identified E. coli were resistant to Erythromycin, Cephalothin and Amoxicillin and susceptible to Ciprofloxacin. Escherichia coli isolated from the Mooi River catchment shared the same antibiotic resistance phenotype. The most abundant HPC bacterial genus identified was Pseudomonas spp. (7 isolates). Opportunistic pathogens isolated included Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Acinetobacter, Aeromonas, Alcaligenes, Flavobacterium, Bacillus cereus and Mycobacterium spp. Varying degrees of antibiotic resistance were observed. Generally, the same pattern between the same genera were observed. All HPC isolates were resistant to Cephalothin and Amoxicillin and a lower degree Erythromycin and Streptomycin. The most abundant amoeba resistant bacteria was identified as Pseudomonas spp. Other isolates included Alcaligenes faecalis and Ochrobactrum sp. and Achromobacter sp. All of these are opportunistic pathogens, except for Achromobacter. Resistance to more antibiotics (Streptomycin, Chloramphenicol, Cephalothin, and Amoxicillin) was observed in ARBs compared to HPC (Cephalothin, Amoxicillin) from bulk water from the same borehole. The water of all the aquifers sampled is of very poor physico - chemical or microbiological quality or both. Water may be used for irrigation or livestock watering only in the case where these boreholes comply with TWQR for said purposes. Results obtained indicate that the groundwater is faecally contaminated. Amongst the bacteria, opportunistic pathogens displaying various degrees of antibiotic resistance were frequently isolated. These results indicate health risks if untreated groundwater is consumed. Therefore groundwater needs to be treated before distribution especially if the water is for human consumption.