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Understanding microbial ecology to improve management of drinking water distribution systems

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Microorganisms in drinking water distribution systems (DWDS), and in particular the microbial communities that form biofilms on infrastructure surfaces, drive critical processes impacting water quality. This paper reviews knowledge, research approaches, and monitoring methods to consolidate understanding of the microbial ecology of DWDS. The review highlights how microbial characteristics and subsequent behavior can be broadly classified as common or complex. Common behavior relates to the ubiquitous and continual development of biofilms, consistent core communities, and mediated material accumulation. In contrast, the complex aspect relates to the shape, structure, and composition of the microbiome, defined by site‐specific properties such as supplied source water, pipe material, and hydraulic regimes. It is shown how the latest microbial tools and techniques can be applied to increase our understanding of DWDS ecology and how water utilities are starting to use this knowledge. This is not because of regulatory requirements, but in recognition that they provide valuable information facilitating proactive management and operation benefits to these critical yet aging systems, protecting water quality and public health in the process. This article is categorized under: Engineering Water > Sustainable Engineering of Water Water and Life > Nature of Freshwater Ecosystems
(a) Real‐scale DWDS laboratory facility at Sheffield University, (b) PWG coupons are inserted along the pipe, (c) PWG coupons showing insert and outer part of the coupon. (d) Biofilm sampling devices used to sampling biofilm in situ during field work. (e) Flushing equipment used in real DWDS
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Schematic showing the concept of cohesive material layers of different shear strengths attached to pipe surfaces and its association to the observed properties of biofilms, that is, layers and clusters of varying composition and attachment strengths on the pipe wall
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Water and Life > Nature of Freshwater Ecosystems
Engineering Water > Sustainable Engineering of Water

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