Water quality changes, particle accumulation and microbial growth occurring in pilot-scale water distribution systems fed with normally treated and additional treated groundwater were monitored over a period of almost one year. The treatment processes were ranked in the following order: nanofiltration (NF) > (better than) ultrafiltration (UF) > ion exchange (IEX) for limiting particle accumulation. A different order was found for limiting overall microbial growth: NF > IEX > UF. There were strong correlations between particle load and particle accumulation, and between nutrient load and microbial growth. It was concluded that particle accumulation can be controlled by reducing the particle load in water treatment plants; and the microbial growth can be better controlled by limiting organic nutrients rather than removing biomass in water treatment plants. The major focus of this study was on microbial growth. The results demonstrated that growth occurred in all types of treated water, including the phases of bulk water, biofilm and loose deposits. Considering the growth in different phases, similar growth in bulk water was observed for all treatments; NF strongly reduced growth both in loose deposits and in biofilm; UF promoted growth in biofilm, while strongly limiting growth in loose deposits. IEX had good efficiency in between UF and NF, limiting both growths in loose deposits and in biofilm. Significant growth was found in loose deposits, suggesting that loose deposit biomass should be taken into account for growth evaluation and/or prediction. Strong correlations were found between microbial growth and pressure drop in a membrane fouling simulator which proved that a membrane fouling simulator can be a fast growth predictor (within a week). Different results obtained by adenosine triphosphate and flow cytometry cell counts revealed that ATP can accurately describe both suspended and particle-associated biomass, and flow cytometry files of TCC measurements needs to be further processed for particle loaded samples and/or a pretreatment protocol should be developed.
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