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Organisms involved in water purification


Most organisms involved in water purification originate from the waste, wastewater or water stream itself or arrive as resting spore of some form from the atmosphere. In a very few cases, mostly associated with constructed wetlands, specific organisms are planted to maximise the efficiency of the process.

Biota are an essential component of most sewage treatment processes and many water purification systems. Most of the organisms involved are derived from the waste, wastewater or water stream itself or from the atmosphere or soil water. However some processes, especially those involved in removing very low concentrations of contaminants, may use engineered eco-systems created by the introduction of specific plants and sometimes animals. Some full scale sewage treatment plants also use constructed wetlands to provide treatment

Particles of soil or organic matter may be suspended in the water. Such materials may give the water a cloudy or turbid appearance. The anoxic decomposition of some organic materials may give rise to obnoxious or unpleasant smells as sulphur containing compounds are released.

Saprophytic bacteria and fungi can convert organic matter into living cell mass, carbon dioxide, water and a range of metabolic by-products. These saprophytic organisms may then be predated upon by protozoa, rotifers and, in cleaner waters, Bryozoa which consume suspended organic particles including viruses and pathogenic bacteria. Clarity of the water may begin to improve as the protozoa are subsequently consumed by rotifers and cladocera. Purifying bacteria, protozoa, and rotifers must either be mixed throughout the water or have the water circulated past them to be effective. Sewage treatment plants mix these organisms as activated sludge or circulate water past organisms living on trickling filters or rotating biological contactors.

The choice of plants in engineered wet-lands or managed lagoons is dependent on the purification requirements of the system and this may involve plantings of varying plant species at a range of depths to achieve the required goal.

Fish are frequently the top level predators in a managed treatment eco-system and in some case may simply be a mono-culture of herbivorous species. Management of multi-species fisheries requires careful management and may involve a range of fish species including bottom-feeders and predatory species to limit population growth of the herbivorous fish

Rotifers are microscopic complex organisms and are filter feeders removing fine particulate matter from water. They occur naturally in aerobic lagoons, activated sludge processes, in trickling filters and in final settlement tanks and are a significant factor in removing suspended bacterial cells and algae from the water column.

Annelid worms are essential to the effective operation of trickling filters helping to remove excess bio-mass and enhancing natural sloughing of the bio-film. Supernumerary worms are very commonly found in the drainage troughs around trickling filters and in the final settlement sludge. Annelids also play a key role in lagoon treatment systems and in the effective working or engineered wet-lands. In this environment worms are a principal force in mixing in the upper few centimetres of the sediment layer exposing organic material to both oxidative and anoxic environments aiding the complete breakdown of most organics. They are also a key ingredient in the food-chain transferring energy upwards to fish and aquatic birds.