A two-stage moving bed biofilm reactor (MBBR) was applied at the Bundamba advanced water treatment plant (AWTP) (Queensland, Australia) to treat the reverse osmosis concentrate (ROC) for inorganic nutrient removal. One of the operational challenges for the system was to cope with the large fluctuations of the ROC flow. This study investigated the decay rates of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) and nitrite-oxidizing bacteria (NOB) and biofilm detachment in MBBR during starvation for up to one month. An intermittent aeration strategy of 15 min aeration every 6 h was applied. This study also evaluated the activity recovery of both AOB and NOB after normal operation was resumed. The results showed that the activity loss of AOB and NOB was relatively minor (<20%) within 10 days of starvation, which ensured relatively quick recovery of ammonium removal when normal operation resumed. In contrast, the AOB and NOB activity loss reached 60–80% when the starvation time was longer than 20 days, resulting in slower recovery of ammonium removal after starvation. Starvation for less than 20 days didn't result in an apparent biomass detachment from carriers.

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