Understanding the biological stability of drinking water distribution systems is imperative in the framework of process control and risk management. The objective of this research was to examine the dynamics of the bacterial community during drinking water distribution at high temporal resolution. Water samples (156 in total) were collected over short time-scales (minutes/hours/days) from the outlet of a treatment plant and a location in its corresponding distribution network. The drinking water is treated by biofiltration and disinfectant residuals are absent during distribution. The community was analyzed by 16S rRNA gene pyrosequencing and flow cytometry as well as conventional, culture-based methods. Despite a random dramatic event (detected with pyrosequencing and flow cytometry but not with plate counts), the bacterial community profile at the two locations did not vary significantly over time. A diverse core microbiome was shared between the two locations (58-65% of the taxa and 86-91% of the sequences) and found to be dependent on the treatment strategy. The bacterial community structure changed during distribution, with greater richness detected in the network and phyla such as Acidobacteria and Gemmatimonadetes becoming abundant. The rare taxa displayed the highest dynamicity, causing the major change during water distribution. This change did not have hygienic implications and is contingent on the sensitivity of the applied methods. The concept of biological stability therefore needs to be revised. Biostability is generally desired in drinking water guidelines but may be difficult to achieve in large-scale complex distribution systems that are inherently dynamic.
Keywords: Bacterial community; Biological stability; Drinking water distribution system; Flow cytometry; Pyrosequencing; Temporal dynamics.
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