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Water Res. 2018 Aug 1;139:406-419. doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2018.03.077. Epub 2018 Mar 30.

Long-term spatial and temporal microbial community dynamics in a large-scale drinking water distribution system with multiple disinfectant regimes.

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Department of Microbiology and Plant Pathology, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa.
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Northeastern University, Boston, USA.
Scientific Services, Rand Water, Vereeniging, South Africa.
Department of Microbiology and Plant Pathology, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa. Electronic address:


Long-term spatial-temporal investigations of microbial dynamics in full-scale drinking water distribution systems are scarce. These investigations can reveal the process, infrastructure, and environmental factors that influence the microbial community, offering opportunities to re-think microbial management in drinking water systems. Often, these insights are missed or are unreliable in short-term studies, which are impacted by stochastic variabilities inherent to large full-scale systems. In this two-year study, we investigated the spatial and temporal dynamics of the microbial community in a large, full scale South African drinking water distribution system that uses three successive disinfection strategies (i.e. chlorination, chloramination and hypochlorination). Monthly bulk water samples were collected from the outlet of the treatment plant and from 17 points in the distribution system spanning nearly 150 km and the bacterial community composition was characterised by Illumina MiSeq sequencing of the V4 hypervariable region of the 16S rRNA gene. Like previous studies, Alpha- and Betaproteobacteria dominated the drinking water bacterial communities, with an increase in Betaproteobacteria post-chloramination. In contrast with previous reports, the observed richness, diversity, and evenness of the bacterial communities were higher in the winter months as opposed to the summer months in this study. In addition to temperature effects, the seasonal variations were also likely to be influenced by changes in average water age in the distribution system and corresponding changes in disinfectant residual concentrations. Spatial dynamics of the bacterial communities indicated distance decay, with bacterial communities becoming increasingly dissimilar with increasing distance between sampling locations. These spatial effects dampened the temporal changes in the bulk water community and were the dominant factor when considering the entire distribution system. However, temporal variations were consistently stronger as compared to spatial changes at individual sampling locations and demonstrated seasonality. This study emphasises the need for long-term studies to comprehensively understand the temporal patterns that would otherwise be missed in short-term investigations. Furthermore, systematic long-term investigations are particularly critical towards determining the impact of changes in source water quality, environmental conditions, and process operations on the changes in microbial community composition in the drinking water distribution system.


Bulk water; Disinfection; Drinking water distribution system; Long-term investigation; Microbial community ecology; Temporal and spatial dynamics

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