Measurements of river water quality at Haridwar, India, taken during 2005–2006 show that the river water does not meet the World Health Organization and Bureau of Indian Standards criteria of drinking water quality, especially with respect to total coliform and fecal coliform. This study investigates the removal of pathogens at a river bank filtration site in Haridwar. Using the quality of river water and the quality of abstracted water from a nearby production well, semi-empirical models based on the concept of filtration coefficient are developed and tested for their effectiveness in removing pathogens under varying bacteriological quality of source water. A two-tier model, which includes the effect of clogged layer, is developed to obtain an equivalent filtration coefficient. This coefficient is found to be linearly related with natural logarithm of the concentration of pathogens in the source water. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.