Water Quality in Rainwater Tanks – Microbiology

Written by peter@uwcs.com.au

March 21, 2015

BiofilmsLongitudinal sampling from rainwater tanks throughout Australia was employed to analyse  the microbial ecosystems in water supplies. Epidemiological research indicates that drinking rainwater does not create averse health impacts. The concept that domestic rainwater storage tanks may host sustainable microbial ecosystems that improve water quality has not previously been addressed. The bacterial diversity, cultivated from more than 80 samples from 22 tanks at various locations across eastern Australia, is presented as evidence of potential operation of a functional micro-ecology within rainwater storage systems. In combination with low abundance of bacteria associated with faecal contamination, the results indicate high quality water and beneficial ecosystem processes. A recent presentation to the RHAA on water quality processes in rainwater harvesting systems is also provided.

Cultivated isolates were found to comprise members of four major bacterial divisions; Proteobacteria, Firmicutes, Actinobacteria and Bacteroidetes, including more than 200 species from 80 different genera. The pattern of abundance distribution was typical of that observed in most natural communities, comprising a small number of abundant taxa and a multitude of rare taxa, while the specific composition resembled that previously described in a number of natural aquatic systems. Although Proteobacteria from α, β and γ sub-classes were dominant, a set of core taxa comprising representative genera from all four phyla could be identified. Coliform and other species specifically associated with faecal material comprised < 15% of the species identified, and represented < 1.5% of total average abundance. The composition of the cultivated populations and scope of diversity present, suggested that rainwater tanks may support functional ecosystems comprising complex communities of environmental bacteria, which may have beneficial implications for the quality of harvested rainwater.

Click here to download the publication       Click here to download RHAA presentation

Dr Peter Coombes

Dr Coombes has spent more than 30 years dedicated to the development of systems understanding of the urban, rural and natural water cycles with a view to finding optimum solutions for the sustainable use of ecosystem services, provision of infrastructure and urban planning.

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