Although waste from coffee processing is a valuable resource to make biogas, compost, and nutrient-rich animal food, it is usually dumped into nearby water courses. We carried out water quality assessment at 44 sampling sites along 18 rivers that receive untreated waste from 23 coffee pulping and processing plants in Jimma Zone, Ethiopia. Twenty upstream sampling sites free from coffee waste impact served as control, and 24 downstream sampling sites affected by coffee waste were selected for comparison. Physicochemical and biological results revealed a significant river water quality deterioration as a result of disposing untreated coffee waste into running water courses. During coffee-processing (wet) season, the highest organic load (1,900 mg/l), measured as biochemical oxygen demand, depleted dissolved oxygen (DO) to a level less than 0.01 mg/l, and thus curtailed nitrification. During off season, oxygen started to recuperate and augmented nitrification. The shift from significantly elevated organic load and reduced DO in the wet season to increased nitrate in the off season was found to be the determining factor for the difference in macroinvertebrate community structure as verified by ordination analysis. Macroinvertebrate diversity was significantly reduced in impacted sites during the wet season contrary to the off season. However, there was a significant difference in the ratio of sensitive to pollution-tolerant taxa in the off season, which remained depreciated in the longer term. This study highlights the urgency of research exploring on the feasibility of adopting appropriate pollution abatement technologies to implement ecologically sound coffee-processing systems in coffee-growing regions of Ethiopia.
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