This study presents a new coupon sampling device that can be inserted directly into the pipes within water distribution systems (WDS), maintaining representative near wall pipe flow conditions and enabling simultaneous microscopy and DNA-based analysis of biofilms formed in situ. To evaluate this sampling device, fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) analyses were used to investigate changes in biofilms on replicate coupons within a non-sterile pilot-scale WDS. FISH analysis demonstrated increases in bacterial biofilm coverage of the coupon surface over time, while the DGGE analysis showed the development of increasingly complex biofilm communities, with time-specific clustering of these communities. This coupon design offers improvements over existing biofilm sampling devices in that it enables simultaneous quantitative and qualitative compositional characterization of biofilm assemblages formed within a WDS, while importantly maintaining fully representative near wall pipe flow conditions. Hence, it provides a practical approach that can be used to capture the interactions between biofilm formation and changing abiotic conditions, boundary shear stress, and turbulent driven exchange within WDS. Â© Springer-Verlag 2010.