Modelling environmental impacts of treated municipal wastewater reuse for tree crops irrigation in the Mediterranean coastal region

6
Mar

Modelling environmental impacts of treated municipal wastewater reuse for tree crops irrigation in the Mediterranean coastal region

Wastewater reuse provides valuable solutions to solve the societal challenges of decreasing availability and limiting
access to secure water resources. The present study quantifies the environmental performance of nectarine
orchards irrigation using treated municipal wastewater (TMW) and surface water using a unique dataset based
on field experimental data. Climate change, toxicity (for human and freshwater), eutrophication (marine and
freshwater) and acidification impacts were analysed using the impact assessment method suggested by the International Reference Life Cycle Data System (ILCD). The water footprint associated to the life cycles of each system has been estimated using the Available WAter REmaining (AWARE) method. Monte Carlo simulation was
used to assess data uncertainty. The irrigation of nectarine orchards using TMW performs better than the irrigation
using surface water for eutrophication impact categories. Compared with surface water resources, the potential
impacts of TMW reuse in agriculture on climate change and toxicity are affected by the wastewater treatment
phase (WWT). Only eutrophication and acidification burdens are generated by in-field substitution of surface
water with TMW. Considering human and ecosystem water demand, the irrigation with TMW increases water
consumption of 19.12 m³ per kg of nectarine produced.Whereas, it shows a positive contribution towater stress
(−0.19 m³) if only human water demand is considered. This study provides important results that allow for a
better understanding of the potential environmental consequences of TMW reuse in agriculture. It suggests
that embracing the type of WWTs, the replacement of fertilizers, the effects on water scarcity and ecosystem
quality might be useful to redefine water reuse regulations and increase public acceptance for the reuse of TMW in agriculture.Moreover, this study reveals the need for developing consensus and standardized guidance
for life cycle analysis of water reuse applications.

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