Harvesting rainwater is a common practice worldwide, particularly in areas with no access to a public water supply or insufficient groundwater reserves. More than two million people living in semiarid regions of Brazil consume rainwater stored in cisterns, and little information is available regarding the water quality. Despite the initial good quality of the rainwater, its harvest and storage can introduce contaminants that must be eliminated before consumption. To evaluate the influence of handling, cistern age and precipitation on the quality of harvested rainwater, we monitored seven cisterns in the semiarid Brazilian Northeast over 4 years. Microbial and physicochemical parameters were monitored once a month, and denaturant gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) was performed at the end of the monitoring period. Coliform bacteria were detected in 100% of samples, while Escherichia coli were observed in 73.8%. The alkalinity and conductivity were the highest for the recently built cisterns due to the dissolution of construction materials. The DGGE of the 16S r DNA did not reveal the presence of E. coli. Instead, DGGE bands sequencing indicated that species primarily affiliated with Alphaproteobacteria were present in all cisterns, indicating the presence of microbial ecosystems capable of purifying and stabilizing the stored rainwater.

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