Today, microbial drinking water quality is monitored through either time-consuming laboratory methods or indirect on-line measurements. Results are thus either delayed or insufficient to support proactive action. A novel, optical, on-line bacteria sensor with a 10-minute time resolution has been developed. The sensor is based on 3D image recognition, and the obtained pictures are analyzed with algorithms considering 59 quantified image parameters. The sensor counts individual suspended particles and classifies them as either bacteria or abiotic particles. The technology is capable of distinguishing and quantifying bacteria and particles in pure and mixed suspensions, and the quantification correlates with total bacterial counts. Several field applications have demonstrated that the technology can monitor changes in the concentration of bacteria, and is thus well suited for rapid detection of critical conditions such as pollution events in drinking water.