Total coliform bacteria are a collection of relatively harmless microorganisms that live in large numbers in the intestines of man and warm- and cold-blooded animals. They aid in the digestion of food. A specific subgroup of this collection is the fecal coliform bacteria, the most common member being Escherichia coli.

These organisms may be separated from the total coliform group by their ability to grow at elevated temperatures and are associated only with the fecal material of warm-blooded animals.

Fecal coliform by themselves are usually  not pathogenic; they are indicator organisms, which means they may indicate the presence of other pathogenic bacteria. Pathogens are typically present in such small amounts it is impractical monitor them directly.

Note: Some strains of Escherichia coli , which are a type of fecal coliform, can cause intestinal illness.

Wastewater and Septic System Effluent

Fecal coliform is present in human waste, so the bacteria goes down the drains in our houses and businesses, and can enter streams from illegal or leaky sanitary sewer connections, poorly functioning septic systems, and poorly functioning water treatment plant (WTPs).

Animal Waste

A significant amount of fecal coliform is released in the wastes produced by animals. This can be a serious problem in water near cattle sheds that have poor animal keeping practices and waste is not properly contained. In urban areas, fecal coliform can be contributed to surface water by dog, cat, and human waste when it is carried into storm drains, creeks, and lakes during storms.

Sediment Load

High amounts of sediment are often related to high concentrations of pathogenic bacteria. The bacteria can attach to sediment particles.. Fast-running water can carry more sediment, so higher levels of bacteria can occur during high monsoon season. Bacteria are much more abundant in soil than in water.


Bacteria grow faster at higher temperatures. The growth rate slows drastically at very low temperatures.


High levels of nutrients can increase the growth rate of bacteria.

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