The Seine river watershed (France) is a deeply anthropogenically impacted area, due to the high population density, intense industrial activities and intensive agriculture. The water quality and ecological functioning of the different rivers of the Seine drainage network have been extensively studied during the last fifteen years within the framework of a large French multidisciplinary scientific program (PIREN Seine program). This paper presents a synthesis of the main data gained in the scope of this program concerning the microbiological water contamination of the rivers of the Seine drainage network. The more common indicator of fecal contamination (fecal coliforms) was mainly used; some complementary works used E. coli and intestinal enterococci as alternative fecal indicators. Point sources (outfall of wastewater treatment plants) and non point sources (surface runoff and soil leaching) of fecal pollution to the rivers of the watershed were quantified. Results showed that, at the scale of a large urbanised watershed as the Seine basin, the input of fecal micro-organisms by non-point sources is much lower than the inputs by point sources. However, the local impact of diffuse non-human sources (especially surface runoff of pastured fields) can be of major importance on the microbiological quality of small headwater rivers. Fecal contamination of the main rivers of the Seine watershed (Seine, Marne, Oise rivers) was studied showing high level of microbiological pollution when compared to European guidelines for bathing waters. The strong negative impact of treated wastewater effluents outfall on the microbiological quality of receiving rivers was observed in different areas of the watershed. Once released in rivers, culturable fecal bacteria disappeared relatively rapidly due to mortality (protozoan grazing, lysis) or loss of culturability induced by stress conditions (sunlight effect, nutrient concentration, temperature). Mortality rates of E. coli were studied in different types of rivers within the watershed showing, in summer conditions, no major difference in the mortality rates in small and large rivers. As a result of these studies, a module describing the dynamics of fecal bacteria has been developed and embedded within a hydro-ecological model describing the functioning of the rivers of the whole watershed (the SENEQUE model). Once validated, such a model can be used for testing predictive scenarios and thus can be a very useful tool for the management of microbiological water quality at the scale of the whole basin. © 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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