(Micro)Biological Sediment Formation in a Non-Chlorinated Drinking Water Distribution System

Emmanuelle I. Prest*, Bram J. Martijn, Matthijs Rietveld, Yuemei Lin, Peter G. Schaap

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
180 Downloads (Pure)


Sediment formation in drinking water distribution systems can lead to brown water at customer taps. Previous studies have shown that sediment formation is closely linked with (micro)biological processes in the distribution system, however the mechanism is not fully understood. Most available studies on discoloration or sediment formation mechanism are based on modeling, pilot-scale experiments, or low frequency data collected during pipe flushing. In this study, long-term sediment development in a large-scale drinking water distribution system was studied at one location over 11 years and at several locations along a known water trajectory during one year. Particulate material was collected at several locations using built-in and mobile filters that were connected to transport and distribution pipes in a semi-continuous manner. The volume of the collected material varied seasonally and the highest volumes were collected in the summer season. The material followed similar variations as temperature, invertebrates biomass and concentration of Aeromonas. The results showed that particulate matter of the sediment at downstream distribution locations was not released by the treatment works but instead forms along the distribution network, with increasing particle/floc size, biomass and Fe and Mn content. The large crustacean, Asellus, contributed to material production through feces excretion and formation of detritus by degradation of exoskeletons of dead animals. Detailed chemical characterization of the collected material showed the presence of proteins, calcium carbonate and iron precipitates. A similar sediment composition in a reference distribution system where customer complaints about brown water are experienced less frequently suggests that the sediment formation mechanism is the same but that water quality of the treatment effluent impacts the extent of material formation and growth of invertebrates. Overall, the results indicate that sediment formation in the distribution system is the result of complex combinations of (micro)biological and bio-chemical processes, including aggregation of particles with organic and inorganic matter, microbial growth on particles and biofilm, biomineralization, and growth of invertebrates. The determining factors to limit sediment formation, however, could not be identified. Further research is required to focus on the impact of treatment on shaping the distribution system ecosystem.

Original languageEnglish
Article number214
Number of pages21
JournalWater (Switzerland)
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • biological stability
  • drinking water
  • invertebrates
  • particles
  • sediments


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