The Microbiology of Your Drinking Water

The Microbiology of Your Drinking Water

March 4, 2020

There are countless microorganisms that surround us every single day of our lives. They’re in our bodies, in the earth around us and, yes, in the water we drink. Even after the water has been filtered and processed, there are still going to be plenty of microorganisms that make their way into the water.

While the thought of this might make you uncomfortable, it’s important to note that these microorganisms are not all harmful. In fact, the vast majority are not. Consider this: in the human body, there is likely to be more than 100 trillion bacteria, which perform beneficial functions such as food digestion, production of important vitamins and nutrients and protecting the body against other microbes that could be potentially harmful. In fact, the microbiome of the human body is constantly being researched by scientists who wish to learn more about the beneficial roles these microorganisms and bacteria play in the body.

Turning our attention to drinking water

The drinking water microbiome has also been the subject of a great deal of research over the years. People commonly mistake the process of filtering and cleaning the water for sterilizing it. There’s no such thing as sterile water that comes through the municipal water system. Yes, the treatment plants will use disinfecting methods and agents to eliminate harmful bacteria and other water ecosystem threats in Pisgah Forest, NC, but microorganisms can regrow in the distribution chain.

When the water reaches the tap, you can expect there to be microorganisms numbering up to 100 million cells per liter. They grow and exist in the pipes that bring water to your home, and throughout every element of the distribution system. You can think of it as a sort of unique manmade ecosystem for these organisms.

Again, though, the vast majority of these microorganisms are harmless. In fact, some can even be beneficial, in that they offer a certain level of protection against pathogens that might otherwise try to colonize in distribution system pipes.

Regulatory bodies still keep a very close eye on microbial content in water. They’ll screen for microorganisms that are most likely to act as indicators of fecal contamination (such as total coliforms). There are also improved molecular tools and techniques that exist today that did not in past decades that allow water scientists to develop a significantly greater understanding of the microbes that can be found in our municipal water systems and drinking water.

In one study, researchers found bacteria belonging to at least nine different phyla and up to 256 different species in any given water sample. Some of these types of bacteria can only be grown and proliferate in the water distribution system, due to the particularly unique natures of the environment. Only about one percent can be successfully replicated and grown in a laboratory setting.

So, while it might be unsettling for you to think about the sheer number of microscopic lifeforms that can exist in a glass of drinking water, never fear—the vast majority are harmless, and many are even beneficial. Royal Water Works, Inc. has a water microbiology lab in Pisgah Forest, NC. Contact us today for more information about having your water tested!

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