Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Final Activity Report Summary - MUWS (Microbiology of Urban Water Systems)

Urban water systems are important for millions of EU citizens living in urban areas. They have a major impact on the quality of their life by preventing serious illness and disease, protecting and enhancing the environment and enabling economic and social development. Urban water systems are a major component of the water cycle and present unique challenges; the systems are large, highly interconnected and dynamic and their overall performance is controlled by the interaction between physical, chemical and biological processes. The Pennine Water Group (PWG) is the leading UK research group with regard to urban water systems, but its scientific expertise is mainly in understanding physical and chemical rather than microbiological processes.

The Marie Curie Transfer of Knowledge (TOK) project MUWS addressed this knowledge gap in PWG scientific expertise through the recruitment of three TOK fellows who focussed on addressing the microbiological challenges in urban water systems. The scientific element of MUWS focussed on the development and application of molecular microbiological techniques for the characterisation of microbial communities in the free flowing water phase, and adhered to the pipe walls (biofilms), in drinking water distribution systems and sewer networks.

In collaboration with existing PWG projects, this provided an opportunity to evaluate the potential impact of these microorganisms due to their presence and diversity on the performance of both systems. For drinking water distribution systems, characterisation of the microbiology was conducted at three different lengths scales: laboratory studies, pilot-scale distribution systems and field sampling. This enabled a complement of fundamental understanding of biological processes alongside 'real world' observation. Similarly for sewer networks, characterisation of the microbiological community was conducted using field samples and pilot scale systems. To enable the successful study of biofilms within the urban water systems, two biofilm sampling devices were also developed as part of the MUWS project.

Key results from this project showed that even when the water does not fail regulatory compliance tests and does not pose any ill health effects, there is a diverse community of microorganisms present which can vary with how long the water has been in the pipe, or which day or time of the week the samples are collected. Biofilms were also found with varying composition dependent on the pipe and flow conditions. The biofilm formation ability of individual bacteria within the distribution systems however is not constant and dependent on the specific characteristics and their response to the environment. Within sewer networks, different microbial communities could be found in wastewater and biofilms, respectively. In addition the biofilm community changed with the vertical position on the sewer wall and depended on whether the part of the wall were wetted daily or only during rain events. In further sewer studies, specific bacteria which have the ability to produce odours, were also identified in the wastewater, sediment and biofilm samples, from an environment where the wastewater had been stored for long periods.

The TOK objective of MUWS was to provide new skills and expertise, which would address the gap in biological knowledge within the PWG and increase the research and training capacity of the group. The TOK fellows successfully trained undergraduate, postgraduate and staff of the PWG in their specialised field, as well as prepared user friendly laboratory manuals, delivered lectures to students and industry representatives, published research findings and presented results at national and international conferences. Through this successful integration and TOK, a further £1.25M of project funding has been obtained, which will provide longevity to the activities started under the MUWS project.

Reported by

University of Sheffield
Western Bank
S10 2TN Sheffield
United Kingdom
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