Bacteria are microscopic, unicellular organisms that divide through cell division. They are found in almost every type of environment on Earth and can have a variety of different functions depending on the species.
The presence of fecal coliform bacteria indicates that there are feces
from a warm-blooded animal contaminating the water. Escherichia coli (E.
coli) is the most common form of fecal coliform bacteria and although
normally present in the digestive tract of humans and other mammals, contact
with outside strains can lead to infection and serious illness.
The more closely related the animal is to humans, the greater the chances are for infection to occur if humans come in contact with the bacteria either through drinking contaminated water or while swimming. Ingestion of other organisms who may have accumulated the bacteria in their system may also result in infection.
In 1998, 11 of Lake Whatcom's tributaries were listed as impaired water bodies because they failed to meet state water quality standards due to high fecal coliform counts. The resulting water quality problems triggered a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) study by the Washington Department of Ecology.
The most common sources for E. coli include:
Just a few grams of pet waste can contain millions of fecal coliform colonies.