Frontiers of Earth Science

, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 544–553 | Cite as

Instream coliform gradients in the Holtemme, a small headwater stream in the Elbe River Basin, Northern Germany

Research Article


The Holtemme is a small headwater stream in North Germany’s Elbe River Basin. According to German and European legislation, hygienic monitoring is not mandatory for such water bodies which are neither drinking water sources nor categorized as bathing waters. Consequently, relatively little is known about the occurrence of–potentially pathogenic–bacteria and viruses in Germany’s streams and rivers. The Holtemme was selected for a case study because it is relatively well monitored for both chemical water quality and aquatic ecology, but not for hygiene. Originating in the mountains of Harz Nature Park, the 47 km long Holtemme is characterized by a strong longitudinal gradient in chemical water quality, which is related to different land uses and the influx of treated wastewater from two urban areas (Wernigerode and Halberstadt). Waste water loads received by the Holtemme are comparatively high when compared to similarly small streams.

In 2015, total coliform concentrations between more than 200 and 77,010 bacteria per 100 mL, and fecal coliform concentrations between 5 and 24,060 bacteria per 100 mL were observed in the Holtemme’s main channel. The highest concentrations were typically found below the outlets of the two wastewater treatment plants. The treated wastewater contained total and fecal coliform concentrations of up to 200,500 and 83,100 per 100 mL, respectively; however, there were significant temporal variations. While the observed concentrations are unproblematic from a legal perspective (because no maximum permissible limits are defined for streams in Germany), they would exceed the tolerable limits for bathing waters in the EU, indicating moderate to critical pollution limits.


surface water stream hygine instream coliforms 


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This study was funded by the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research. We thank Ms. Gunsmaa Batbayar for assisting us during three sampling campaigns, and Florian Pöhlein for assisting us during one sampling campaign. We thank the reviewers for their detailed comments which have helped to improve this manuscript significantly.


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Copyright information

© Higher Education Press and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Helmholtz Centre for Environmental ResearchMagdeburgGermany
  2. 2.Department of GeographyGöttingen UniversityGöttingenGermany
  3. 3.Institute of Applied GeologyCentral UniversityTaiwanChina

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