Meeting report: knowledge and gaps in developing microbial criteria for inland recreational waters

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has committed to issuing in 2012 new or revised criteria designed to protect the health of those who use surface waters for recreation. For this purpose, the U.S. EPA has been conducting epidemiologic studies to establish relationships between microbial measures of water quality and adverse health outcomes among swimmers. New methods for testing water quality that would provide same-day results will likely be elements of the new criteria. Although the epidemiologic studies upon which the criteria will be based were conducted at Great Lakes and marine beaches, the new water quality criteria may be extended to inland waters (IWs). Similarities and important differences between coastal waters (CWs) and IWs that should be considered when developing criteria for IWs were the focus of an expert workshop. Here, we summarize the state of knowledge and research needed to base IWs microbial criteria on sound science. Two key differences between CWs and IWs are the sources of indicator bacteria, which may modify the relationship between indicator microbes and health risk, and the relationship between indicators and pathogens, which also may vary within IWs. Monitoring using rapid molecular methods will require the standardization and simplification of analytical methods, as well as greater clarity about their interpretation. Research needs for the short term and longer term are described.