The purpose of this study was to investigate the occurrence of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) in water used for irrigation in the Werribee River Basin, Australia, including river water and reclaimed effluent water (reclaimed water). Samples of reclaimed water, collected over a one-year period, were screened for the occurrence of ARGs using PCR detection assays. The presence of ARGs in the reclaimed water samples were contrasted with that of water samples taken from the Werribee River Basin, collected over the same time period, from five points selected for varying levels of urban and agricultural impact. Of the 54 river water samples collected, 2 (4%), 2 (4%), 0 and 0 were positive for methicillin, sulfonamide, gentamicin and vancomycin-resistant genes, respectively, while 6 of 11 reclaimed water samples were positive for methicillin (9%) and sulfonamide (45%). The presence/absence of ARGs did not appear to correlate with other measured water quality parameters. The low detection of ARGs in river water indicates that, regardless of its poor quality, the river has not yet been severely contaminated with ARGs. The greater prevalence of ARGs in reclaimed water indicates that this important agricultural water source will need to be monitored into the future.
Keywords: irrigation, recycled water, seasonal study, waste water