The current understanding of drinking water distribution system (DWDS) microbiology is limited to pipe wall biofilm and bulk water; the contributions of particle-associated bacteria (from suspended solids and loose deposits) have long been neglected. Analyzing the composition and correlation of bacterial communities from different phases helped us to locate where most of the bacteria are and understand the interactions among these phases. In the present study, the bacteria from four critical phases of an unchlorinated DWDS, including bulk water, pipe wall biofilm, suspended solids, and loose deposits, were quantified and identified by adenosine triphosphate analysis and pyrosequencing, respectively. The results showed that the bulk water bacteria (including the contribution of suspended solids) contributed less than 2% of the total bacteria. The bacteria associated with loose deposits and pipe wall biofilm that accumulated in the DWDS accounted for over 98% of the total bacteria, and the contributions of bacteria in loose deposits and pipe wall biofilm were comparable. Depending on the amount of loose deposits, its contribution can be 7-fold higher than the pipe wall biofilm. Pyrosequencing revealed relatively stable bacterial communities in bulk water, pipe wall biofilm, and suspended solids throughout the distribution system; however, the communities present in loose deposits were dependent on the amount of loose deposits locally. Bacteria within the phases of suspended solids, loose deposits, and pipe wall biofilm were similar in phylogenetic composition. The bulk water bacteria (dominated by Polaromonas spp.) were clearly different from the bacteria from the other three phases (dominated by Sphingomonas spp.). This study highlighted that the integral DWDS ecology should include contributions from all of the four phases, especially the bacteria harbored by loose deposits. The accumulation of loose deposits and the aging process create variable microenvironments inside loose deposits structures for bacteria to grow. Moreover, loose deposits protect the associated bacteria from disinfectants, and due to their mobility, the associated bacteria reach taps easily. © 2014 American Chemical Society.