Using surrogate data to assess risks associated with microbial peak events in source water at drinking water treatment plants

Émile Sylvestre*, Michèle Prévost, Jean Baptiste Burnet, Patrick Smeets, Gertjan Medema, Mounia Hachad, Sarah Dorner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


A monitoring strategy was implemented at two drinking water treatment plants in Quebec, Canada, to evaluate microbial reduction performances of full-scale treatment processes under different source water conditions. β-D-glucuronidase activity in source water was automatically monitored in near-real-time to establish baseline and event conditions at each location. High-volume water samples (50–1,500 L) were collected at the inflow and the outflow of coagulation/flocculation, filtration, and UV disinfection processes and were analysed for two naturally occurring surrogate organisms: Escherichia coli and Clostridium perfringens. Source water Cryptosporidium data and full-scale C. perfringens reduction data were entered into a quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA) model to estimate daily infection risks associated with exposures to Cryptosporidium via consumption of treated drinking water. Daily mean E. coli and Cryptosporidium concentrations in source water under event conditions were in the top 5% (agricultural site) or in the top 15% (urban site) of what occurs through the year at these drinking water treatment plants. Reduction performances of up to 6.0-log for E. coli and 5.6-log for C. perfringens were measured by concentrating high-volume water samples throughout the treatment train. For both drinking water treatment plants, removal performances by coagulation/flocculation/sedimentation processes were at the high end of the range of those reported in the literature for bacteria and bacterial spores. Reductions of E. coli and C. perfringens by floc blanket clarification, ballasted clarification and rapid sand filtration did not deteriorate during two snowmelt/rainfall events. QMRA results suggested that daily infection risks were similar during two rainfall/snowmelt events than during baseline conditions. Additional studies investigating full-scale reductions would be desirable to improve the evaluation of differences in treatment performances under various source water conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number117296
Number of pages10
JournalWater Research
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Drinking water
  • Microbial peaks
  • Quantitative microbial risk assessment
  • β-D-glucuronidase


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