Multi-parametric assessment of biological stability of drinking water produced from groundwater: Reverse osmosis vs. conventional treatment

Mohaned Sousi, Gang Liu*, Sergio G. Salinas-Rodriguez, Lihua Chen, Jos Dusseldorp, Peter Wessels, Jan C. Schippers, Maria D. Kennedy, Walter van der Meer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)
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Although water produced by reverse osmosis (RO) filtration has low bacterial growth potential (BGP), post-treatment of RO permeate, which is necessary prior to distribution and human consumption, needs to be examined because of the potential re-introduction of nutrients/contaminants. In this study, drinking water produced from anaerobic groundwater by RO and post-treatment (ion exchange, calcite contactors, and aeration) was compared with that produced by conventional treatment comprising (dry) sand filtration, pellet softening, rapid sand filtration, activated carbon filtration, and UV disinfection. The multi-parametric assessment of biological stability included bacterial quantification, nutrient concentration and composition as well as bacterial community composition and diversity. Results showed that RO permeate remineralised in the laboratory has an extremely low BGP (50 ± 12 × 103 ICC/mL), which increased to 130 ± 10 × 103 ICC/mL after site post-treatment. Despite the negative impact of post-treatment, the BGP of the finished RO-treated water was >75% lower than that of conventionally treated water. Organic carbon limited bacterial growth in both RO-treated and conventionally treated waters. The increased BGP in RO-treated water was caused by the re-introduction of nutrients during post-treatment. Similarly, OTUs introduced during post-treatment, assigned to the phyla of Proteobacteria and Bacteroidetes (75–85%), were not present in the source groundwater. Conversely, conventionally treated water shared some OTUs with the source groundwater. It is clear that RO-based treatment achieved an extremely low BGP, which can be further improved by optimising post-treatment, such as using high purity calcite. The multi-parametric approach adopted in this study can offer insights into growth characteristics including limiting nutrients (why) and dominating genera growing (who), which is essential to manage microbiological water quality in water treatment and distribution systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116317
JournalWater research
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020


  • Bacterial growth potential (BGP)
  • Biological stability
  • Limiting nutrient
  • Multi-parametric approach
  • Reverse osmosis (RO)
  • Trace elements


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