Microbes in pipes (MIP) the microbiology of the water distribution system

In the last decade, revolutionary advances in the field of microbiology are providing new ways to think about how water distribution systems are designed and managed. For the first time, the true diversity of microbes that live in our drinking water distribution system is something we can observe an...

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Bibliographic Details
Main Author: Ingerson-Mahar, Michael J.
Corporate Authors: American Academy of Microbiology Colloquium (2012 April, Boulder, Colo.), American Society for Microbiology
Other Authors: Reid, Ann ([rapporteur])
Format: eBook
Published: Washington, DC American Society for Microbiology [2013], 2013
Online Access:
Collection: National Center for Biotechnology Information - Collection details see MPG.ReNa
Summary:In the last decade, revolutionary advances in the field of microbiology are providing new ways to think about how water distribution systems are designed and managed. For the first time, the true diversity of microbes that live in our drinking water distribution system is something we can observe and study. The scientific and technological advances necessary to characterize distribution system ecosystems come at a time when the need to make informed decisions about replacing and upgrading existing water distribution systems has never been greater. The American Association of Civil Engineers in 2009 gave the U.S. drinking water infrastructure a grade of D- and estimated that in the next 30 years, 30% of the water distribution system infrastructure in the United States will need to be replaced at an estimated annual cost of 11 billion dollars.
▪ What do we need to do to advance the study of these communities? What collaborations need to be fostered? What advances in science and technology are needed? The group considered how an interdisciplinary, integrated approach to understanding the microbial ecology of water distribution infrastructure could leverage each discipline's expertise and generate an understanding that is greater than the sum of the current parts. This report, the output of the colloquium, outlines the challenges that must be tackled to enhance our understanding of the ecology of water distribution systems, and a plan to address these challenges in the most effective way possible, as part of a greater effort to continue to ensure healthful drinking water within a sustainable infrastructure. Thus this report should be of use not only to microbiologists, but also utilities, government agencies, public health professionals, hospitals, and even industries that rely on safe water for the manufacture of products
To consider these opportunities, the American Academy of Microbiology held a colloquium in April of 2012 focused on identifying specific challenges and gaps in our understanding of the microbial ecosystems of water distribution systems, and developing a research plan to address them. The colloquium brought together microbiologists with experts from many other science and engineering communities, including public health, infectious disease, epidemiology, risk assessment, materials science, civil and environmental engineering, water quality monitoring, and water policy, each of whom specialize in some aspect of the interaction between microbes and the water distribution infrastructure. The participants addressed three areas of interest: 1. ▪ What is the composition and activity of the microbial communities living in the water distribution system?2. ▪ What are realistic goals for understanding and influencing these communities? What would we like to achieve?3.
are home to hundreds or thousands of species of bacteria, algae, invertebrates, and viruses, most of which are completely harmless to humans. This has always been the case and in a way it is especially remarkable that our drinking water can contain so many microbes, but nevertheless be virtually pathogen-free. Indeed, it is possible that the non-pathogenic residents actually suppress pathogens. A new opportunity has emerged whereby the people whose job it is to provide us with safe water, and the scientists who are working to understand the vast microbial world that surrounds us, can work together to their mutual advantage. Water utilities have the potential to apply deeper understanding of the microbial ecology of water distribution systems to develop and apply more effective microbiological monitoring, pathogen detection, and treatment approaches.
Overall, the microbial ecology of the water distribution system is exceptionally diverse because there are so many different microhabitats. However, defined portions of the system (for example the biofilm on one stretch of pipe) is likely simpler than many natural habitats. As a result, water distribution systems could provide access for microbiologists to microbial communities that are less complicated than those found in many natural environments but are nevertheless genuine ecosystems that develop and change over time. In many ways, the water delivery infrastructure could serve as a 'model system' for the study of microbial communities, and it is likely that discoveries made in that environment will be highly transferable to our understanding of microbial communities in more complex natural settings. New partnerships between academic microbiologists and water utilities could take advantage of this historic opportunity to the benefit of both groups, and to society at large.
These numbers do not include additions to the systems that will be necessary to accommodate increased demand for drinking water over the next 30 years. At the same time new green technologies and water conservation and reuse strategies are becoming more popular and new water treatment strategies are being developed. All of these have the potential to significantly alter the microbial ecology of water distribution systems in ways that we cannot now predict. Many non-microbiologists probably assume that the goal has always been, and should remain, the elimination of all microbes from our drinking water. But the water we drink has never been sterile; perfectly safe water contains millions of non-pathogenic microbes in every glassful -- and this is just as true, by the way, of bottled water as it is of tap water. Like every other human built environment, the entire water distribution system -- every reservoir, every well, every pipe, and every faucet --
The construction of sanitary water delivery systems that ended the scourges of typhoid, cholera and other diseases was one of the public health triumphs of the last century. So successful was the investment in clean water distribution systems that in the developed world, we take for granted the safety of our water. Certainly, we do not look to this long-established public sector as the setting for major scientific or technological advances. But despite the vast improvements in water safety in the last century, drinking water is still occasionally contaminated with pathogens and waterborne illnesses continue to occur, albeit at much lower levels than in the past. Ensuring that the water distribution system delivers safe water at a reasonable cost requires ongoing vigilance and investment, and water utility companies are continually looking for ways to make our water even safer.
Item Description:"Report on an American Academy of Microbiology Colloquium, April 2012, Boulder, Colorado."
Physical Description:1 PDF file (24 pages) illustrations