Conventional wastewater treatment and reuse site practices modify bacterial community structure but do not eliminate some opportunistic pathogens in reclaimed water. Academic Article uri icon


  • Water recycling continues to expand across the United States, from areas that have access to advanced, potable-level treated reclaimed water, to those having access only to reclaimed water treated at conventional municipal wastewater treatment plants. This expansion makes it important to further characterize the microbial quality of these conventionally-treated water sources. Therefore, we used 16S rRNA gene sequencing to characterize total bacterial communities present in differentially-treated wastewater and reclaimed water (n = 67 samples) from four U.S. wastewater treatment plants and one associated spray irrigation site conducting on-site ultraviolet treatment and open-air storage. The number of observed operational taxonomic units was significantly lower (p < 0.01) in effluent, compared to influent, after conventional treatment. Effluent community structure was influenced more by treatment method than by influent community structure. The abundance of Legionella spp. increased as treatment progressed in one treatment plant that performed chlorination and in another that seasonally chlorinated. Overall, the alpha-diversity of bacterial communities in reclaimed water decreased (p < 0.01) during wastewater treatment and spray irrigation site ultraviolet treatment (p < 0.01), but increased (p < 0.01) after open-air storage at the spray irrigation site. The abundance of Legionella spp. was higher at the sprinkler system pumphouse at the spray irrigation site than in the influent from the treatment plant supplying the site. Legionella pneumophila was detected in conventionally treated effluent samples and in samples collected after ultraviolet treatment at the spray irrigation site, while Legionella feeleii persisted throughout on-site treatment at the spray irrigation site, and, along with Mycobacterium gordonae, was also detected at the sprinkler system pumphouse at the spray irrigation site. These data could inform the development of future treatment technologies and reuse guidelines that address a broader assemblage of the bacterial community of reclaimed water, resulting in reuse practices that may be more protective of public health.

published proceedings

  • Sci Total Environ

altmetric score

  • 14.83

author list (cited authors)

  • Kulkarni, P., Olson, N. D., Paulson, J. N., Pop, M., Maddox, C., Claye, E., ... Sapkota, A. R.

citation count

  • 29

complete list of authors

  • Kulkarni, Prachi||Olson, Nathan D||Paulson, Joseph N||Pop, Mihai||Maddox, Cynthia||Claye, Emma||Rosenberg Goldstein, Rachel E||Sharma, Manan||Gibbs, Shawn G||Mongodin, Emmanuel F||Sapkota, Amy R

publication date

  • October 2018