Treated wastewater irrigation use

An article in Water Asset Management International examines economic, social and environmental factors which could be considered in an integrated way to evaluate the treated municipal wastewater reuse procedure for irrigation purposes in Greece.

Water scarcity and deterioration in the quality of water resources in many countries has led to the recognition that integrated water resource management, where all pertinent factors are considered in the decision-making process, should be adopted. Such a holistic approach requires that alternative water resources be incorporated in water resource management.

Desalination of seawater as well as reclamation and reuse of municipal wastewater are the main strategies that have been proposed for investigation and application in many countries. Treated municipal wastewater could be reused for specific purposes, such as irrigation, industrial uses and aquifer recharge purposes. However, the most common reuse application is agricultural irrigation. On this occasion, wastewater can serve as a source of both water and nutrients, thus reducing fertilisation costs.

In Greece, the most significant problems regarding distribution and availability of water resources are in the Aegean islands as well as in most of the eastern Greek regions. In these areas rainfall is relatively low compared to that of the western regions of Greece. Nevertheless, reuse of municipal wastewater has not been a common management practice in the country, while direct disposal of treated effluents in rivers, lakes or the sea is usual. The main effect of this situation is that a lot of alternative water sources in Greece are not exploited, while a large volume of high-quality water is used in non-potable uses such as irrigation.

Many research projects aimed at determining guidelines for reuse of wastewater and examining effects of wastewater irrigation on specific crops have been conducted recently. However, many municipalities in Greece are not keen on constructing advanced wastewater treatment systems which will make the secondary effluent suitable for reuse purposes because of the high costs involved. In addition, some Greek farmers are not willing to use recycled water because of the lack of information regarding wastewater quality as well as health and safety issues.

The authors develop an evaluation model which could be used to determine whether it is worthwhile for municipal recycled water to be exploited as an alternative water resource in a Greek region. The development of such a model incorporates the relative economic, social and environmental aspects regarding wastewater reuse. Economic criteria include factors such as investment, maintenance and running costs. The most important social factor is public acceptance of recycled water use. Finally, environmental factors include saving water and ensuring any recycled water is suitable for irrigation purposes. These criteria would be evaluated (or weighted) by decision makers.

The authors conclude that by evaluating economic and social aspects in relation to the necessary environmental factors, significant problems regarding wastewater reuse procedure in Greece can be solved. They also state that informing and educating local authorities, workers in wastewater treatment plants and farmers of the real significance of wastewater recycling is necessary. The media should also contribute to this effort by informing the local society on how important such water management could be for the protection of natural resources and the environment.

Source: S. Bakopoulou and A. Kungolos, 2010. Reuse of treated wastewater for irrigation purposes in Greece: Investigation of economic, social and environmental factors. Water Asset Management International, IWA Publishing, 6(1), 19-22.

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