01 February 2016
Biological stability of drinking water refers to the concept of providing consumers with drinking water of same microbial quality at the tap as produced at the water treatment facility. However, uncontrolled growth of bacteria can occur during distribution in water mains and premise plumbing, and can lead to hygienic (e.g., development of opportunistic pathogens), aesthetic (e.g., deterioration of taste, odor, color) or operational (e.g., fouling or biocorrosion of pipes) problems. Drinking water contains diverse microorganisms competing for limited available nutrients for growth. Bacterial growth and interactions are regulated by factors, such as (i) type and concentration of available organic and inorganic nutrients, (ii) type and concentration of residual disinfectant, (iii) presence of predators, such as protozoa and invertebrates, (iv) environmental conditions, such as water temperature, and (v) spatial location of microorganisms (bulk water, sediment, or biofilm). Water treatment and distribution conditions in water mains and premise plumbing affect each of these factors and shape bacterial community characteristics (abundance, composition, viability) in distribution systems. Improved understanding of bacterial interactions in distribution systems and of environmental conditions impact is needed for better control of bacterial communities during drinking water production and distribution. This article reviews (i) existing knowledge on biological stability controlling factors and (ii) how these factors are affected by drinking water production and distribution conditions. In addition, (iii) the concept of biological stability is discussed in light of experience with well-established and new analytical methods, enabling high throughput analysis and in-depth characterization of bacterial communities in drinking water. We discussed, how knowledge gained from novel techniques will improve design and monitoring of water treatment and distribution systems in order to maintain good drinking water microbial quality up to consumer’s tap. A new definition and methodological approach for biological stability is proposed.