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Efficacy of conventional drinking water treatment processes in removing problem-causing phytoplankton and associated organic compounds

HE Ewerts, A Swanepoel, HH du Preez


Seven phytoplankton groups were recorded in the source water supplied to South Africa’s largest conventional drinking water treatment plant (DWTP). Two phytoplankton genera, Anabaena and Ceratium were identified as the problem-causing phytoplankton due to their ability to interfere with the water treatment process and negatively impact on water quality. The objectives of this study were to identify problem-causing phytoplankton genera and investigate the efficacy of unit processes in removing phytoplankton genera and associated organic compounds. Phytoplankton and organic compound data were obtained from four different sampling localities throughout the treatment plant and statistically analysed to evaluate the removal efficiencies of unit processes. The highest percentage removal for the Cyanophyceae average seasonal concentration (> 1 000 cells/mℓ) was recorded at 98%, while the highest percentage removal for the Dinophyceae average seasonal concentration (± 9 cells/mℓ) was recorded at 100%. Microcystis and Anabaena were removed by the processes of coagulation, flocculation and sedimentation (> 95%), while Ceratium cells were removed by sand filtration (> 80%). Ineffective removal of Ceratium by coagulation, flocculation and sedimentation (and subsequent penetration to the sand filtration step) will negatively impact on filter run times when these phytoplankton genera are present in high concentrations in the source water. Total photosynthetic pigments (TPP) were removed effectively by all the different water treatment processes. Not enough statistical evidence could be displayed to suggest effective removal of geosmin in this conventional water treatment plant. With good removal of intact cyanobacteria cells during coagulation, flocculation and sedimentation, geosmin concentrations in the final water could be kept to accepted organoleptic levels of 5–10 ng/ℓ in the final water. Optimising conventional drinking water treatment processes can effectively remove problem-causing phytoplankton as well as their associated organic compounds and thereby reduce the potential risk to drinking water consumers.

Keywords: coagulation, sand filtration, drinking water, Ceratium, Anabaena, Microcystis, geosmin
AJOL African Journals Online