Water distribution systems as living ecosystems: Impact on taste and odor

Beth A. Scott, Ian L. Pepper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Six waters from different U.S. cities with known diverse taste and odor (TO) evaluations were selected for additional microbial characterization. All waters were subjected to microbial and cultural analyses, and four of the waters were further analyzed by cloning and sequencing of community 16S rRNA. The purpose of the study was to evaluate water distribution systems as living ecosystems, and the impact of these ecosystems on TO. All waters had total bacterial counts of at least 103 per ml. The water with lowest TO ranking had 106 total counts per ml. Community DNA sequence analysis identified diverse bacterial communities representing five different phyla and over forty genera. Included in this diversity were heterotrophic and autotrophic species that were both aerobic or anaerobic. Additionally, waters with the lowest TO evaluations contained significant sulfide concentrations, as well as bacteria associated with both the oxidation and reduction of inorganic sulfur compounds. Low redox conditions could have resulted in the reduced sulfur compounds and concomitant TO related problems, and an increase in redox could help alleviate these problems. Overall, data show that water distribution systems contain living ecosystems that evolve based on specific environments within particular distribution systems that impact water TO.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)890-900
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Environmental Science and Health - Part A Toxic/Hazardous Substances and Environmental Engineering
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jun 2010


  • 16S rRNA
  • Autotrophic bacteria
  • Drinking water
  • Odor
  • Sulfur cycle
  • Taste

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering


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